Skip to main content

Full text of "The letters of Alcuin"

See other formats




Sometime Fellow in European History in Columbia University 
New York City 








Copyright, 1909, by R. B. Page 

Prm, A^w York 



THE life of Alcuin has been written many times ; and the 
Carolingian Age in which he played no mean part has often 
been fully treated. The present work is concerned with 
neither of these, primarily, yet both will necessarily be dis- 
cussed in some measure in connection with its main pur- 
pose, which is to determine how far Alcuin's life and works 
mirror forth his age, and to what extent they influenced the 
events of that time. 

The author wishes to thank his colleagues in the New 
York High School of Commerce, Messrs. Carleton, Lewis 
and Wharton, for the valuable assistance they have given 
him in the final preparation of the manuscript. To Pro- 
fessor James T. Shotwell, at whose instance the author 
entered Columbia University, he is especially indebted for 
many kindnesses and for many helpful suggestions in the 
writing and revising of this work. His sincerest thanks 
are due to Professor James Harvey Robinson, at whose 
suggestion this work was undertaken, and without whose 
encouragement it would never have been completed. 

R. B. P. 

NEW YORK CITY, April, 1909. 



THE value of Alcuin's letters as sources for the age of 
Charles the Great Alcuin's early life and career in Eng- 
land; his birth and education at York His teaching at 
York His pilgrimage to Rome Meeting with Charles 
the Great and invitation to Frankland Master of the 
Palace School Alcuin returns to England to make peace 
between Charles the Great and Offa, king of Mercia His 
return to Frankland ; opposition to Adoptionism and Image- 
Worship Abbot of Tours; his quarrel with Theodulph of 
Orleans and King Charles His restoration to favor and 
peaceful death. 



THE general nature of Alcuin's theology; his attitude 
towards the Church Fathers His struggle against the 
Adoptionists ; dogmatic works against the latter; nature 
and origin of Adoptionism ; course of the struggle ; its sig- 
nificance. Other dogmatic works Part played by Alcuin 
in the controversies over filioque and Image-Worship 
Exegetical works of Alcuin; their nature and purpose 
The Commentaries ; his method of interpretation ; influence 
and importance of his exegetical works Moral and bio- 
graphical works; their lack of originality Conclusion. 





THE Papacy as portrayed by Alcuin; its difficulties, its 
weakness Relations with the Prankish power The 
Prankish Church and Charles the Great; his ecclesiastical 
policy and reforms; Alcuin's influence upon these The 
Empire; Alcuin's conception of it Social conditions in 
Frankland in Alcuin's day The clergy, princes and com- 
mon people Social conditions in England; internal strife; 
devastations by the Northmen Remedial measures 



GENERAL condition of learning in the seventh and eighth 
centuries The educational aims of Alcuin and Charles 
Lack of schools, teachers and books; a mediaeval library 
The schools of Charles the Great Alcuin and the Palace 
School The subjects taught; the Seven Liberal Arts; 
Alcuin's educational works Alcuin's attitude toward the 
classics; his literary style, methods and discipline Results 
and conclusions. 


IN the following pages an attempt will be made to form 
an estimate of some of the more important phases of the 
work of Alcuin, from the traces which have come down to 
us in his own works and in those of the men with whom he 
came most in contact. The principal source used is his 
correspondence supplemented by his other works, dogmatic, 
exegetical, moral and didactic. Where these have proved 
inadequate, further evidence has been sought in the Caro- 
lingian Capitularies and other contemporary sources. The 
correspondence of Alcuin, as preserved, includes not merely 
his own letters, but the replies of others, and so especially 
commends itself by reason of its scope and nature. In all, 
there are in the collection three hundred and eleven letters, 1 

(i) For the earlier editions of Alcuin's correspondence see 
Potthast, Wegweiser, p. 34. A modern and very -excellent edition is the 
one prepared by Jaffe, and published by Wattenbach and Duemmler 
in 1873 in the sixth volume of the Bibliotheca Rcrum Germanicarum. 
This has a decided advantage over the preceding editions in that it 
has incorporated with the 306 letters which it contains the three most 
valuable sources for the life of Alcuin. These are, the Vita Alchuini 
Auctore anonymo, probably written by Sigulfus (cf. Jaffe op. cit. p. i), 
and the Vita Sancti Willibrordi, and Versus de Sane t is Eboracensis 
Ecclesiiu, written by Alcuin himself. However, in view of the investiga- 
tions of Sickel, and of Duemmler himself, the edition was soon in 
need of revision so far as the arrangement of the letters was concerned. 
Moreover, though the editors had heartily approved of the major part of 
the work prepared by their dead friend Jaffe, it had not been entirely 
satisfactory to them. Accordingly, Duemmler prepared a new edition 
which was published in 1895 in the Monumenta Germanice Historica, 
Epistolarum, Volume IV, pps. 1-493. It is based very largely on that 
of Jaffe, but it rejects one or two untrustworthy sources used by the 
latter. Duemmler has also revised the dates of many of the letters 
and has rearranged the whole correspondence. Moreover, while omit- 
ting six of the letters inserted in the edition of Jaffe he has made 
considerable additions to four others, (Epp. 3, 28, 49, 145) and has 
incorporated in his own edition eleven letters which were not known 
Jaffe or rejected by him. It is to this edition that references will 


penned by the choicest spirits of the age, among them such 
men as Angilbert, Adalhard, Leidrad, Theodulph, Bene- 
dict of Aniane, Paulinus, Arno and Charles the Great him- 
self. As an intimate friend and zealous co-laborer with 
these in an endeavor to elevate the whole Prankish people 
to the level of that civilization which still lingered on in 
some of the more fortunate places of the realm, Alcuin's 
correspondence with each and all of them is well-nigh in- 
dispensable to those who would obtain a proper concep- 
tion of the political and social history of his day. Therein 
the whole inner life of the Carolingian Age is reflected for 
our inspection. The Prankish nobility, as Alcuin knew it 
at the court and in the Palace School, vigorous, but un- 
tutored; the Prankish clergy, unorganized, vitiated by 
ignorance and sloth, impelled to reform by the genius of its 
king; the struggling Papacy, beset by foes within and with- 
out; barbarian peoples accepting Christianity and civiliza- 
tion at the point of the sword; a great Christian empire 
in the making all these stand out in the correspondence 
of Alcuin in a way that is most illuminating. Moreover, 
an especial significance and value attaches to Alcuin's 
letters, by reason of the fact that he regards himself as a 
mentor and father-confessor to the foremost people of his 
time. He assumed to write with the confidence of a pope 
to every region, parish, province and state of his world, 
exhorting and admonishing the people after the fashion of 
the holy fathers. 1 As a matter of fact, there is scarcely a 

be made in these pages. See also, Sickel, Th., Alcuinstudicn in 
Sitzungsberichte der Philosophisch-Historischen Classe der Wiener 
Akademie, Vol. LXXIX. Sybel's Historische Zeitschrift, Vol. XXXII, 
PP- 352-365. Duemmler E., Zur Lebensgeschichte Alcuins in Neues 
Archiv, Vol. XVIII, pp. 51-70. Duemmler, E., Introduction to Alcuin's 
Letters, M. G. H ; , Epistolarum, Vol. IV, pp. i et seq. 

(i) "Et litteris sub eius (papae) sancti nominis auctoritate per 
diversas mundi regiones populos parrochias civitates et provincias 
hortari; et catholicae fidei rationes plurioribus exponere personis." 
/> 179- 


question of the day of any importance in church or state 
on which Alcuin does not express an opinion. ]t is his 
sense of varied personal responsibility which makes 
his letters so rich in material, and therefore so valu- 
able a supplement to the other scanty sources for this time. 

The data for the life of Alcuin are very scanty. The 
exact time of his birth cannot be fixed ; but it would appear 
that he was born in Northumbria between the years 730 and 
735 A. D. 1 According to the statement of his biographer, 
he was of noble birth, 2 and he himself claimed that he was 
related to St. Willibrord's father, a nobleman of Northum- 
bria. 3 His early life, according to his own testimony, was 
spent in the monastery at York, where he was most kindly 
treated by his masters, Egbert and Aelbert. 4 Here, in com- 
pany with other youths of noble birth, he was instructed 
by the good Aelbert in all the learning of the Seven Liberal 
Arts. 5 He evinced the liveliest interest in his studies, 
especially in Virgil, and soon became the best pupil in the 
school. As such he was the recipient of an unusually 
large share of that affection which his master Aelbert was 
wont to lavish on all his pupils. 

Consequently, when Aelbert made a pilgrimage to Rome, 
after the fashion of scholars of the time, to find something 
new in the way of books and studies, 6 he was accompanied 

(1) Frobenius, Mabillon and Lorentz, whom most of the later 
biographers follow, state that Alcuin's birth could not have occurred 
earlier than 735 ; Duemmler, on the other hand, argues that Alcuin was 
probably born about 730. Cf. Lorentz Alkuin, p. 9: Duemmler, E., Znr 
Lebensgeschichte Alchuins in Gesellschaft fvr altere Deutsche Ge- 
schichtskunde, Neues Archiv, Vol. XVIII, 1893, p. 54 

(2) Vita Alchuini Auctore anonymo, chap. I, apud Jaffe, Biblotheca 
Rerum Germanicarum, Vol. VI, p. 6. 

(3) Vita Sancti Willibrordi, chap. i. Jaffe, op. cit., pp. 40, 41, 76. 
Epp. 20, 19, 43, 47. 

(4) Ep. 42. Versus de SS. Ebor. Ecclcs. op. cit., vv. 1648-1652. Cf. 
Epp. 114, 121, 116, 143, 148. 

(5) Versus de SS. Ebor. Eccles. op. cit., vv. 1430-1452, 1515, 1522, 

(6) "Hie quoque Romuleam venit devotus ad urbem." Versus de 
SS. Ebor. Eccles. op. cit., vv. 1457, 1458. Cf. "Quos (libellos) habui 


by his favorite pupil, Alcuin. The two Anglo-Saxon 
monks, master and pupil, passed through Frankland, and 
such was the impression made upon the latter that he de- 
sired to remain with the Alsatian monks of Murbach. 1 
Though Alcuin dismisses the subject of his sojourn in 
Rome with a short but reverential mention, 2 there is little 
room to doubt that the ancient home of the Caesars made 
a great impression upon him. Their journey had some 
noteworthy incidents; at Pavia, they heard Peter of Pisa 
hold a disputation with a certain Lullus, and later on they 
met King Charles himself. 3 

On their return to York, Alcuin continued to aid Aelbert 
in the work of the school. Soon a change came; Aelbert 
succeeded to the archbishopric on the death of Egbert in 
766, while Alcuin became master of the school, and was 
given express care of the books, those invaluable treasures 
which he and his master had been at such infinite pains to 
collect 4 Alcuin's reputation as a teacher and scholar 
attracted many pupils to his school at York. Among these 
were some from abroad, and others whom he frequently 
mentions in his letters. 5 He taught them what he himself 
had studied, namely, the Seven Liberal Arts. 6 Like 
Aelbert, he was a successful teacher ; his pupils ever remem- 
bered him with gratitude and affection. Indeed, at this 
stage of his career, his lines were cast in pleasant places, 
and later he speaks of this period of his life with regret. 

in patria per bonam et devotissimam magistri mei industriam vel etiam 
mei ipsius qualemcumque sudorem," Ep. 121. Cf. Alcuin's Epitaph on 
Aelbert, M. G. H. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev. I p. 206. 

(i) Epp 172, 271. (2) Versus de SS. Ebor. Eccles. op. cit., vv. 
1457, 1458. (3) Ep. 172. 

(4) Vita Alchuini, op. cit., chap. 5. Cf. Ep. 121. 

(5) Among these were Eanbald, the Second, Archbishop of York, 
and Sigulfus, who followed him to France. Chief among those from 
abroad were Liudger, and Albert, sent from Gregory of Frisia. Vita 
Alchuini op. cit., chap. n. Cf. Vita S. Liudgeri, M. G. H. SS. II, p. 
407. Cf. Epp. 112, 290. 

(6) Versus de SS. Ebor. Eccles. op. cit., vv. 1535-1561. 


When not engaged in teaching, he spent his leisure time 
with his old master, Aelbert, whom he honored as a scholar 
and loved as a father. 1 When Aelbert died in 788 A. D., 
Alcuin mourned him with the most touching sorrow, and 
it may be, as one of his biographers suggests, that the death 
of his old master was one of the factors which determined 
him to go to Frankland. 

In 781 he went to Rome to obtain the pallium for Ean- 
bald. 2 During the journey he met Charles at Parma, was 
invited to make his home in Frankland, and, after hesitat- 
ing until he should obtain the consent of his archbishop 
and of his king, he betook himself with their permission 
to the palace of Charles at Aachen in 782. Here he received 
a warm welcome from the king, 3 and was shortly after 
given charge of certain abbeys. 4 

The motive which induced Alcuin to leave England was 
probably not so much the death of his beloved master as 
his recognition of the fact that conditions there were 
far from conducive to the advancement of learning. 5 
And then it must be remembered that Frankland had a 
great fascination for our English scholar. He was an en- 
thusiastic admirer of Charles, whom he regarded not only 
as the defender of the Church, but as a mighty conqueror 
extending his conquests to enlarge the domain of civiliza- 
tion. Again, Frankland offered a splendid opportunity for 
work as well as for glory. The monasteries had been de- 
stroyed or their property devastated ; learning had decreased 

(1) Ep 148, p. 239. Cf. Versus de SS. Ebor. Eccles. op. cit., vv. 

(2) Vita Alchuini op. cit., chap. 5, p. 17. Cf. authorities quoted in 
Jaffe VI. op. cit., p. 17, note I. 

(3) Vita Alchuini op. cit., chap. 5, p. 17. Cf. Einhard, Vita Caroli 
imperatoris, chap. 25, M. G. H. SS. II. p. 456 : Theodulph Carmen 25, 
Ad Carolum Regem, vv. 131-140, M. G. H. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev. Vol. 
I. p. 486. 

(4) Epp. 153, 154, 232. 

(5) Epp. 101, 102, 109, 122. 


from generation to generation; the very language had been 
debased; the manuscripts, even those relating to the saints, 
had been neglected or mutilated. Alcuin, as might have 
been expected, seems to have regarded his mission to 
Frankland as an apostleship of religion, rather than of 
learning. "I have not come to Frankland/' he says, "nor 
remained there for love of money, but for the sake of re- 
ligion and the strengthening of the Catholic faith." 1 

y Alcuin's first and most important work in Frankland 
was to act as Charles' chief co-laborer in the restoration 
of letters a herculean task, the consummation of which 
the king regarded as second only to the maintenance of the 
kingdom itself. For this task, Alcuin was eminently fitted 

; by his learning, his affiliations with the church, 2 and above 
all, by his practical turn of mind and his admiration for 
the genius and plans of King Charles. He began his work 
by teaching the Seven Liberal Arts in the Palace School. 
The pupils were the youths of the court, young men des- 
tined for high office in church and state. Charles, himself, 
and his elders were wont to participate in the discussions, 
when the affairs of state were not too urgent. 3 

His position as master of the Palace School was no sine- 
cure. He had a mixed class, old and young, men and 
women; all of them curious, eager, insistent, plying him 
with questions that at times must have been most discon- 
certing. Not the least of his difficulties was that his pupils 
gloried in the martial supremacy of their race, and could 

(1) Epp. 178, 198, 171, 41, 217, 43. Cf. Alcuin's Adversus Elipandum, 
bk. I, chap. 16, Migne CCI, p. 251. 

(2) His biographer states that though he had never taken vows, yet 
he lived a life no less self-denying than the most strict adherent of 
the Benedictine Rule. Cf. Vita Alchuini op. cit., chap 8. In this 
connection see Gaskoin's article "Was Alcuin a Monk?" Appendix i 
Gaskoin "Alcuin" pp. 249-252; Hauck, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands, 
II, p. 125, note i. 

(3) Einhard, Vita Caroli imperatoris, chap. 25, M. G. H. SS. II. pp. 



ill brook the intellectual supremacy of their Saxon master; 
at times, they drove him to seek the protection of Charles 
from their jealous levity. 1 Nor was this all. Alcuin was 
wearied by the frequent journeyings of the court, by the 
excitement of successive wars, and by the care of the abbeys 
entrusted to his charge. He was discouraged at times by 
the lack of books, and his righteous soul was vexed by the 
lax morals of the court. 2 

In view of these circumstances, the Prankish court 
could have no permanent attraction for Alcuin. He had 
been practically a recluse in England, was already past 
middle age, and must have longed for retirement and re- 
pose. He sought it in England, whither he returned in 
790, probably intending to end his days as the abbot of a 
small monastery on the banks of the Humber. His hopes 
were not to be realized; he found himself more than ever 
embroiled in secular matters. In the first place, he had to 
act as peacemaker between Charles and Offa, king of 
Mercia, whose relations with each other had become 
seriously strained. 3 Upon his arrival at York, he effected 
a reconciliation between these two potentates, 4 but he found 
that the political conditions in his native state of Northum- 
bria were such as to preclude all idea of repose or study. 
Despairing of accomplishing anything in England, he be- 
gan to think once more of returning to France. Accord- 
ingly, when Charles called upon him for aid in combating 
the heresy of Adoptionism, he set out again for Aachen. 5 
This was in 792, and, much as Alcuin loved his native land, 
he was never destined to return to its shores. 

(1) Carmen, 42, M. G. H. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev. I. p. 254. 

(2) Vita Alchuini, op. cit., chaps. 6, 8. Cf. Epp. 121, 80, 244. 

(3) Vita Alchuini, op. cit., chaps. 6, 8. Cf. Epp. 53, 150, 155, 
121, 80. 

(4) Ep. 244. (5) Cf. Duemmler, Zur Lebensgeschichte Alchuins, 
op. cit. Neues Archiv. Vol. XVIII, p. 63, note 4: Hauck, op. cit., 
Vol. II, p. 123. Vita Alchuini, op. cit., chap. 6. 


After his arrival in Frankland, Alcuin wrote several 
letters to the leaders of that Adoptionist heresy which he 
had returned to oppose. Neither these, nor the treatises 
which he wrote a little later, proved effectual in stemming 
the tide of heresy. Soon after, however, at the Council of 
Frankfort in 794, he had the satisfaction of silencing the 
Bishop of Urgel, one of the chief protagonists of Adop- 
tionism. 1 And it was a source of no little gratification to 
him that the works which he had written against Adop- 
tionism were used as a weapon by the commission which 
succeeded in uprooting that 'pestilent' heresy in Spain. 2 
Just how much he had to do with the controversy over 
image-worship which came up at the same Council of Frank- 
fort, is a matter of debate; but it is very probable that he 
assisted Charles in writing his protests to the Papacy 
, against the doctrine of image-worship. 3 

It was perhaps as a reward for his meritorious services, 
that Charles made him Abbot of Tours in 796.* It is evi- 
dent that he did not seek this honor. Some time before, 
indeed, anxious to be entirely free from all further partici- 
pation in secular affairs, he had requested the king to allow 
him to retire to Fulda, but Charles set him over Tours in 
order to reform the monks and re-establish learning there. 
Here he was destined to spend the remainder of his days, 
disciplining the monks, administering the great possessions 

(1) Epp. 73, 23, 207, 208. 

(2) "Quos nostra parvitas, quantum potuit, scriptis ecclesiasticis 
adiuvabat; maxime eo libello, quern nuper edidimus contra libellum 
illius Felicis." Ep. 207. Cf. Epp. 208, 200. 

(3) As is well known, he brought a memorial against the Nicene 
Decrees to Charles from the bishops and princes of England. Annales 
Nordhumbrani, M. G. H. SS., op. cit., Vol. XIII, p. 155, note 3. Cf. 
Hauck, op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 324, 330 : Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, Vol. 
III., pp. 651-673. 

(4) Vita Alchuini, op. cit., chap. 6. Cf. Epp. 101, 247, 121, 143, 172. 
Annales Laurissenses Minor es, M. G. H. SS. I, p. 119. 


of the abbey, teaching in the school 1 and writing to his 
friends when his multifarious duties permitted. 

In the meantime, events were happening on the conti- 
nent which gave Alcuin an excellent opportunity for the 
exercise of his self-imposed task of mentor. In the 
first place, the crusade against the heresy of Adoption- 
ism, begun at the Councils of Narbonne, Ratisbon and 
Frankfort, was still being vigorously prosecuted in Spain 
by a commission which Charles had appointed for that 
purpose. Alcuin became the head and centre of the 
attack upon this heresy. Such leaders of the orthodox 
party as Leidrad of Lyons, Nefridius of Narbonne, and 
Benedict of Aniane sought the aid of his counsel and of 
his pen. 2 Then the attack of the Roman mob upon Pope j 
Leo III roused him, and he called upon Charles to aid the 
Pope and chastise his enemies. 3 Furthermore, there was 
the coronation of Charles as emperor. Alcuin wrote con- 
gratulating him upon his accession to the imperial dignity, 
and offered as a worthy tribute 'to the new imperial power' 
a beautiful copy of the Gospels. 4 

Not a little of Alcuin's time at Tours was spent in wri- 
ting commentaries on the Bible. In addition to the revision 
of the Scriptures which he prepared at Charles' request, 5 
he commented upon a number of the books, both of the 
Old and New Testament. 6 Thus, teaching, writing, cor- 

(1) Duemmler, Zur Lebensgeschichte Alcuin*, op. cit., Neues Archiv. 
Vol. XVIII, p. 67. Cf. Vita Alchuini, op. cit., chap. 8. Cf. Epp. 
101, 247, 146, 150. 

(2) Epp. 149, 207, 208. 

(3) Ep. 174. Cf. Ep. 179, wherein he exhorts his friend Arno to 
champion the Pope's cause. 

(4) "Sed quaerenti mihi et consideranti nihil dignius pacatissimo 
honori vestro inveniri posse [videbatur] quam divinorum munera 
librorum." Ep. 261. Cf. Epp. 262, 217. 

(5) "Totius forsitan evangelii expositionem direxerim vobis, si me 
non occupasset domni regis praeceptum in emendatione veteris novique 
testamenti." Ep. 195. Cf. Epp. 196, 209, 213, 214. 

(6) Epp. 261, 262. Cf. Vita Alchuini, op. cit., chap. 12. 


responding, did Alcuin spend many useful, happy hours; 
and we can readily believe that he would fain have em- 
ployed all his time in this way; he never speaks with 
pleasure of the broad acres which his abbey ruled and 
owned, though he delighted in dispensing his hospitality 
to the numerous guests who were attracted there by reason 
of its wealth and its reputation. 1 However, with advanc- 
ing age, the secular duties which his office entailed proved 
more and more irksome to him. "We are well-nigh over- 
whelmed by the burden of worldly affairs and the respon- 
sibilities of wealth," he writes to Arno. 2 Other letters 
written at this stage of his career are eloquent of his desire 
to have done with the active affairs of this world. Sickness 
and feebleness oppressed him and he longed for rest. 3 
Even the kind attentions of the king failed to rouse him; 
and though the latter tried to induce him to visit the palace, 
he preferred to remain amid the 'smoky roofs of Tours/ 
In a touching letter to Charlemagne, he plead with him 
to be allowed to retire, and when his request was granted, 
he expressed his satisfaction again and again to his most 
intimate friends. 4 

Unfortunately, the peaceful close which Alcuin contem- 
plated was not yet to be his, for a most unhappy quarrel 
with his friend Theodulph, Bishop of Orleans, came to sad- 
den his last days. It seems that Alcuin gave asylum to a 
certain delinquent whom Theodulph had tried and im- 
prisoned. A quarrel ensued, and both of them appealed 
to Charles. To Alcuin's great sorrow, the emperor not 
only sided with Theodulph, but, angered at Alcuin's 
temerity in opposing his authority, cast aspersions on the 
monks of St. Martin's, even hinting that Alcuin's disci- 

(i) On one occasion in 800 A. D., Charles honored him with a 

visit. />. 165. (2) Epp. 53, 150, 156, 159, 167, 70, 113. 

(3) Epp. 192, 229, 238, 253, 254, 240, 266. 

(4) Epp. 178, 170. Cf. Epp. 237, 233, 234, 235, 239, 240. 


pline must have been lax. 1 However, it is pleasing to note 
that Charles forgave him, partially at least, and cheered 
his declining years with some marks of his favor. The 
former intimacy was renewed; Charles wrote asking for 
explanations of his difficulties in theology and as- 
tronomy, and Alcuin showed his keen appreciation by 
dedicating to him most of his exegetical works written at 
that time. 2 Furthermore, agreeable to Alcuin's wish, the 
emperor appointed Fridugis as his successor, and invited 
Alcuin himself again and again to the court. These invi- 
tations were humbly but firmly declined, the old scholar 
pleading the infirmities of age. 3 A little later, a year or 
more before his death, he took a dignified and pathetic fare- 
well of Charles, thanking him for all his kindness and re- 
minding him of the importance of preparing for death and 
the judgment. About the same time he wrote to Pope Leo 
III, asking him to pardon his sins. 4 As he neared the end 
of life, he was filled with a strange dread of death. "I 
tremble with terror at the thought of the Judgment Day," 
says he, "lest it find me unprepared/' 5 He expressed a 
desire that he might die on Pentecost, and yearned 
with an intense longing to be buried by the side of St. 
Boniface at Fulda. He was far too weak to admit of his 
being taken to Fulda; but part of his wish was fulfilled, 
for his life went out in a beautiful close just as the matins 
had been sung on Whitsunday, May iQth, 804 A. D. 6 

(1) When Theodulph demanded that the delinquent be delivered 
into his hands, he seems to have been acting as a missus of the king. 
Ep. 247. Cf. Epp. 245, 249. 

(2) Epp. 257, 261, 306, 136, 304. Cf. Ep. 242, edition of Jaffe. 

(3) Epp. 178, 238, 239, 240, 241. 

(4) Epp. 234, 238. 

(5) Epp. 239, 252, 242, 266. 

(6) Vita Alchuini, op. cit., chaps. 14, 15. Ad Annales Petavianos, 
M. G. H. SS., Vol. Ill, p. 170. 



To the historian of dogma, the Carolingian Age does 
not offer much, unless he wishes to study the appropria- 
tion of old and familiar material rather than the evolution 
of new doctrines. For the first creative period of Chris- 
tianity, after it had come under the influence of Greek 
philosophy, was much anterior to that age; nor had it yet 
entered upon its second phase, scholasticism. The philos- 
ophy and theology of the patristic period, handed down 
in part through compendia, was being propagated in new 
abridgments. Those who wished to attain to the highest 
theological culture read Augustine and the other Latin 
fathers ; but very few scholars of the Carolingian Age went 
back of Gregory the Great and Isidore of Seville, and none 
of them, with the possible exception of Johannes Scotus, 
was able to probe that patristic intellectual world in its 
deeper ideas and perceptions and make it a part of their 
own experience. 1 ^ 

Thus we need look for nothing new in the theology of ' 
Alcuin's period; deeply distrustful of itself, slavish in its 
adherence to authority, it gropes after the traditions of the 
past ; yet it is not without interest, owing to its tendency to 
mysticism on the one hand, and to materialistic for- 

(i) Harnack, History of Dogma, translation by N, Buchanan, Vol. 
V, p. 275. Cf. Ueberweg, History of Philosophy from Thales to 
Present Time, translation by George Morris, Vol. I, p. 355- Hatch, 
Introductory Lecture on the Study of Ecclesiastical History, 1885. 



realism on the other. These were so much in harmony with 
the spirit of the age and so insidious in their influence as 
to have been either unnoted by the most enlightened men 
of the day, or, if so, to have been viewed without distrust 
and even with equanimity. In matters of practice, there 
had long been a tendency to formalism which was marked 
by a steady decline of religion into a ceremonial service, 
and a belief in the miraculous. The growing influence of 
Rome over the west in matters of faith and practice, fur- 
thered as it was by the ecclesiastical reforms of Charles the 
Great, was a very potent factor in promoting uniformity 
and formalism as well as orthodoxy; while the tendency 
to mysticism combined with the woful ignorance and super- 
stition which characterized the people of the day, will ac- 
count in a large measure for their inveterate love of the 

Alcuin shares the tendencies of his age. Like his con- 
temporaries, and his predecessors for several centuries, he 
is but an echo of preceding writers ; he knew no philosophy, 
no theology save what he found in the Church Fathers, or 
in an allegorically interpreted Bible. He makes this very 
clear in a letter to Gisla and Rodtruda 1 wherein he explains 
that, as a physician doth compound out of many drugs and 
herbs a specific for the healing of the sick, so he himself, 
for the spiritual upbuilding of the faithful, doth glean 
truths from the Fathers as Veritable flowers of the field.' 2 
Nor does he presume to trust his own judgment. "Rather," 
says he, "have I been careful to follow the beaten path of 
the Fathers, imploring the aid of Divine Providence that 
I might interpret their meaning aright." 3 

Alcuin's theological works may be roughly classified as 

(1) Sister and daughter, respectively, of Charles the Great. 

(2) ^Florida rura peragranda mihi esse video." Ep. 213, p. 357. 

(3) "Magis horum omnium sensibus ac verbis utens, quam meae 
quicquam praesumptioni committens." Ibid. 


exegetical, moral, liturgical and dogmatic. 1 In a large 
measure, they were called forth by the exigencies of the 
time. This is especially true of the liturgical and dogmatic 
works; they are quasi-official in character, the former hav- 
ing been written to further Charles' plan of making the 
liturgy of Frankland conform to that of Rome, and the 
latter to defend the orthodox church against heresy. Of all 
his theological works, the dogmatic are certainly the ablest 
and possibly the most important. These consist of three 
treatises 2 and of a number of letters, all of them written 
against the heresy of Adoptionism and its leaders, Felix 
of Urgel and Elipand of Toledo. They evince a direct- 
ness and force not found in his other works; possibly, be- 
cause Alcuin here found a subject after his own heart, a 
subject which furnished him with an opportunity for the 
display of his biblical and patristic lore, as well as for the 
vindication of his orthodoxy. 

From the dogmatic standpoint, the chief importance of 
Adoptionism lay in the fact that it was really an assertion 
of a duality in the personality of Christ. 3 According to 
Alcuin, one of their chief opponents, the Adoptionists main- 
tained the unity of the divine person, but they believed in 
distinguishing strictly between the divine and the human 
natures of Christ, asserting that Christ, as God, was the 
natural, and as man, the adopted, Son of God. 4 That is 
to say, they maintained that He was born once by natural 
birth as the Son of God, and again, by a process beginning 
with baptism and culminating in the resurrection, as the 
adopted Son of God. Thus they emphasized His humanity; 

(1) West's Alcuin, appendix, pp. 187, 188. 

(2) The Beati Alcuini Advcrsus Felicis Haeresin; the Beati Alcuini 
contra Felicem Urgellitanum Episcopum Libri VII, and the Adversus 
Elipandum Tolitanum Libri IV, in Migne, CCI, pp. 83-299. 

(3) Cf. Gaskoin Alcuin, p. 140. 

(4) "Dicis itaque quod unus homo duos patres naturales non possit 
habere, et alterum adoptivum," et seq. Adv. Pel. Book III, chap. 2. 
Migne CCI, p. 163 : Cf. Ep. 23 ; Harnack op. cit. V, pp. 282-285. 


Christ was a Son no less in His humanity than in His 
divinity; but His nature as the Son of man was different 
from that He possessed as the Son of God. Accordingly, 
those who asserted that in His human natures He was 
properly and strictly the Son of God, confounded His two 
natures and denied that any difference existed between God 
and man, the Word and the flesh, the Creator and the 
creature. 1 

The origin of Adoptionism has long been a disputed 
point. It does not lie within our province to discuss it. 2 
Suffice it to say, that the term Adoption had lingered on 
from early times in the Spanish Church, where it had been 
perpetuated by some passages in the so-called Mozarabic 
liturgy. It did not become a burning question in Spain 
until its chief protagonist, Elipand, Bishop of Toledo, tried 
to subject the province of Asturias to his ecclesiastical 
jurisdiction. 3 It became a matter of great moment to the 
whole of Western Europe, when Felix, Bishop of Urgel, 
came forward as its champion. Now, Felix's diocese lay 
within the borders of Frankland, and Charles the Great, 
realizing that Felix and his new doctrine were becoming 
disturbing factors among his newly conquered people, re- 
solved to repress them both. His first expedient was to 
have Adoptionism condemned by the councils of the church. 
That proved ineffectual, although Felix was forced to re- 
cant at Ratisbon, and Adoptionism was condemned at the 
Council of Frankfort. 4 

At this juncture, Alcuin became prominent in the con- 
troversy. He had been received into the Council of Frank- 
fort, and it is possible took part in its deliberations. 5 How- 

(1) Adv. Pel III, 17; Migne CCI, pp. 171-173. 

(2) Cf. Harnack, op. cit. V., pp. 278-283 and footnotes ; Hefele, op. 
tit. Ill, pp. 642-652; Hauck, op. cit. II, p. 290, note 2. 

(3) Moeller, History of Christian Church, pp. 130-132. 

(4) Hefele, op. cit. Ill, pp. 661, 671, 678. 

(5) Annales Einhardi, M. G. H. SS. I., p. 351. 


ever, it was not until it had become apparent that the coun- 
cils had failed in their purpose that Alcuin would seem to- 
have been singled out by King Charles to champion the 
orthodox faith. Not long after the Council of Frankfort, 
Alcuin wrote to Felix adjuring him to renounce hi? errors. 
Failing to convince him, he wrote a tract against him. 1 
This was followed somewhat later by his larger work 
against Felix, the Adversus Felicem? as well as by his tract 
against Elipand. 

In these works, Alcuin drew largely upon his patristic 
knowledge and taxed his ingenuity to the utmost in his 
effort to refute the Adoptionists. In the first place, he 
strove to crush his opponents by the sheer weight of tradi- 
tion, declaring that their doctrine was an innovation, 3 with- 
out authority in the Scriptures, the Fathers, the decrees of 
councils, or the practices of the Roman Church. "Why," 
he asks Felix, "why do you wish to impose a new name 
upon the church? Has God revealed it unto you, amid the 
Spanish mountains, during these latter days of the faith? 
Think you that, in contravention to the apostolic teaching 
and that of the Fathers, you shall be permitted to rear a 
new church in a remote corner of the earth?" 4 And Alcuin 
goes on to state that the Fathers of the Church, the 
Prophets, Apostles and Evangelists, the Angels at the 
Nativity, as well as the Angel of the Annunciation, nay, 
the Father himself, on the occasion of Christ's baptism and 

(1) The Beati Alcuini adversus. Felicis Haeresin, mentioned in 
Ep. 172 and 145. Cf Adv. Pel, op. cit. II, chap. 2, Migne CCI, pp. 

(2) The Beati Alcuini "contra Felicem Urgellitanum Episcopum 
Libri VII, written between the years 798 and 799, and approved by 
the bishops and the King after the Synod of Aachen. Cf. Epp. 172, 
202, 207. 

(3) Epp. 23, 166, 193. Cf. Adv. Elip., op. cit. IV, bk. 2, chap. I. 
Migne CCI, p. 256. Cf. Adv. Pel, op. cit. I, chap, i, Ibid., pp. 127- 

(4) Cf. Adv. Pel. op. cit. I, chap. 2. Migne CCI, p. 129. Cf. 
Adv. Pel op. cit. II, chap. 5, Ibid., p. 150. Cf. Epp. 23, 166. 


transfiguration, one and all have borne testimony to the 
divinity of Christ from the very moment of His concep- 
tion. Surely no man in his right senses would gainsay the 
authority of these doctors of the Holy Catholic Church; 
and most assuredly none save the most presumptuous 
would contradict the testimony of Holy Writ. 1 On the 
other hand, what had the Adoptionists to offset this tes- 
timony save their own opinions, together with several 
phrases of the Mozarabic liturgy, and a few citations of 
doubtful authority from certain Spanish writers? 2 Where 
fore, he implores Felix and his friends to abjure that con- 
tentious obstinacy which converts error into heresy. 3 

If his opponents are not overwhelmed by such a cloud of 
witnesses, Alcuin is prepared to prove, not alone that the 
arguments with which they support their contention are 
inconsistent and unsound, but that their doctrine cf Adop- 
tionism is but the ancient heresy of Nestorianism in a new 
guise. 4 Furthermore, he declares that the Adoptionist doc- 
trine in regard to the Incarnation is most degrading to 
Christ, and subversive of the faith, in that it ascribes to 
Him a servile condition reducing Him to the level of man- 
kind. 5 Accordingly, he arraigns the Adoptionists for their 
presumption in attempting to search out the hidden mys- 
teries of God, and to set a limit to the Divine Omnipotence. 

(1) "Si tantum hominis, reclamant tibi apostoli, reclamant prophetae 
reclamat denique ipse, per quern facta est conceptio, Spiritus sanctus. 
Obruitur impudentissimum os tuum cunctis divinorum apicum testi- 
moniis ; obruitur sacris voluminibus sanctis testibus ; obruitur denique 
ipso Dei Evangelic." Adv. Pel. II, 3. Migne CCI, p. 148, Cf. ibid., 
infra caps. 7, 13, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20. 

(2) "Sed post haec veritatis testimonia novum nomen Dei Filio 
cum paucis, Hispaniae, non dico doctoribus, sed vertitatis desertoribus, 
imponere praesumis." Adv. Pel. II, 3, Ibid., p. 148. Cf. "Nisi forte et 
eorum dicta sicut et in caeteris solebas, depravaris," ibid., bk. 7, 
chap. 13, Migne CCI, p. 226. 

(3) "Non est hereticus, nisi ex contentione." Ep. 23. 

(4) Adv. Pel. op. cit., Ill, 1-2; I, 12; II, 2; I, 13; III, 7; V, 3; 
III, 2, 3; I, i: IV, 5; VII, ii ; Vn, 2, 9; Adv. Elip., op. cit. IV, 5; 
Ep. 23. 

(5) Adv. Pel, op. cit. IV, 9; VI, i, 2. 


The Catholic Church of the West was hardly in a position 
to understand, much less to favor, the view of the Adoption- 
ists. The latter, by emphasizing the humanity of Christ, had 
demonstrated a way whereby the man Christ could be appre- 
hended as man and as intercessor. This did not appeal to 
Alcuin and his contemporaries, partly because it was an 
"innovation," 1 partly because they had no appreciation of 
the humanity of Christ. Deeply inoculated with the mys- 
ticism of the Greeks, 2 they saw everywhere the mystery of 
deification; and as was inevitable, orthodox churchmen 

m ceased to regard Him in any sense as a human being. 

While the controversy was at its height, Alcuin was 
most indefatigable in his efforts against Adoptionism. He 
first of all tried to refute its able champion, Felix, whom he 
adjured to renounce his error, lest after a life of piety, self- 
sacrifice and devotion, he should endanger the unity of 
Mother Church and his own soul's salvation. 3 His appeal 
was in vain. Felix persisted in his heresy, and won so many 
converts that the Church was put upon the defensive. Alcuin 
was somewhat despondent; his letters of this period give 
evidence of a rancor and bitterness which we should hardly 
have expected in a man of his temperament. He girded 
himself manfully for combat with the old dragon of heresy, 
which was once more raising its envenomed head amid the 
briars and caves of Spain. 4 Soon after the Council of Frank- 
fort, he wrote his first tract against Felix, and sent it by 
his friend, Benedict of Aniane, to the monks of Gothia to 
warn them against Felix. The latter was contumacious 
enough to write a reply, containing, according to Alcuin, 
worse heresies and more blasphemies than those in his pre- 

(i) Epp. 23, 166. (2) Harnack, op, cit., p. 289. 

(3) Alcuin speaks of him as a man of blameless life and remarkable 
sanctity. Epp. 23, 166. 

(4) "Nunc iterum antiquus serpens de dumis Hispanici ruris, et 
de speluncis, venenatae perfidise contritum, non Herculea sed evan- 
gelica clava, caput relevare conatur." Ep. 139. Cf. Epp. 137, 148. 


vious works. "Truly," says Alcuin, "the tract ought to be 
answered since it asserts that Christ is not the true Son of 
God." 1 His suggestion met with the approval of the king, 
and he was commissioned to write a second tract against 
Felix. At his request, Paulinus of Aquila, and others, were 
to co-operate with him. And it appears that he and Paulinus 
carried out their part of the program. 2 These polemics, 
however, were no more effectual against Felix than previous 
ones had been. 

The next move of the orthodox party was to inveigle 
Felix into a debate before King Charles in open court. In 
an evil hour, he allowed Leidrad of Lyons to persuade him 
to appear at the Palace in defense of his cause. 3 His op- 
ponent was Alcuin ; in the disputation which ensued, the lat- 
ter's triumph was complete. Felix, awed by his isolation 
in the presence of his enemies and borne down by the argu- 
ments of his foe, at last abjured his error. Later he wrote 
a profession of the Catholic faith for his clergy, and became 
reconciled with Alcuin and to the Church. 4 

Alcuin next turned his attention to Elipand, who had re- 
mained obdurate and defiant in spite of Felix's recantation. 
As early as July, 799, Alcuin had written him, imploring 
him to renounce his innovations and to use his good offices 
in reclaiming the Bishop of Urgel from error. 5 Elipand's 
reply was abusive in the extreme. He addressed Alcuin as 
"a servant of anti-Christ, begotten of the devil, all reeking 
with the sulphurous fumes of the pit." 6 Thereupon, Alcuin 

(1) Ep. 148. 

(2) Paulinus wrote the Contra Felicem Urgellitanum Episcopum 
Libri tres, Migne XCIX, pp. 343-468. Alcuin mentions this in Ep, 208. 
Cf. Ep. 148, p. 241. 

(3) Vita Alcuini op cit., chap. 7. Cf. Epp. 193, 194, 208 Adv. Elip., 
tk. i, chap. 16. Migne CCI, pp. 299, 304. 

(4) Epp. 207, 208, 199. Yet his recantation was either forced or 
insincere. Agobard declared that Felix still believed in Adoptionism 
at the time of his death. Liber Adversus Felicem, bk. i. Migne CIV, 
P- 33- 

(5) Ep. 166. (6) Epp. 182, 183. 



wrote his Adversus Elipandum against his fiery opponent. 
This, together with his letter to Elipand and his Adversus 
Felicem, he dedicated and sent to the commission which had 
been appointed to teach and preach against Adoptionism. 1 
Supplied with such a wealth of literature, armed with the 
authority of the Emperor, and blessed by the Pope, the com- 
mission of which we have just made mention had every 
reason to hope for success. And succeed they did. Alcuin 
proudly boasted that twenty thousand people, bishops, 
priests, monks, and laymen, had abjured their error, and re- 
turned to the bosom of Mother Church. 2 Thus did ortho- 
doxy triumph, yet the struggle had all but exhausted the 
resources of the Church and had taxed its scholarship to the 

During the Adoptionist struggle, the Prankish church, 
the Prankish king, and the Pope had worked in unison to 
effect the extirpation of a heresy which not only interfered 
with their work of organization, but also ran counter to the 
spirit of the times. The other controversies of our period 
did not have the same tendencies, nor was there the same 
co-operation between the papacy on the one hand, and the 
Prankish church and King Charles on the other. On two 
occasions, at least, the latter lagged behind their guides. 
They rejected image- worship and supported the filioque. 
The last-mentioned doctrine was peculiar to the Latin fath- 
ers, having originated in the Augustinian theology. 8 It had 
been inserted in the Spanish creed, whence it had come to 
the Prankish kingdom, though opinions differed as to 
whether it should be inserted in the symbol which had by 

XT - 1: commission consisted of Leidrad of Lyons, Nefrid of 

Narbonne, Benedict of Aniane. Ep. 200. 

(2) Ep. 208. 

(3) Cf. Augustine's De Trinitate, IV. 2O-Migne, Vol. XLII, pp. 906- 


degrees obtained in the Prankish church. 1 Charles was in 
favor of so doing, as were also Alcuin and Theodulph. 2 
And at the Council of Aix-la-Chapelle in 809, the Prankish 
church decreed that the filioque belonged to the symbol. 

Alcuin was also drawn into the third controversy of the 
period that over Image-worship. While it cannot be es- 
tablished that Alcuin was one of the authors of the Libri 
Carolini? it does not seem unlikely that he assisted in the 
writing of this famous refutation of image-worship. 4 Cer- 
tainly he was present at the Council of Frankfort where the 
Nicene decrees were condemned. It is equally certain that 
while he was in Northumbria he received a copy of the 
Nicene decrees relating to image-worship, together w r ith a 
request that he draw up a refutation and bring it with him 
indorsed by the authority of the princes and bishops of his 
country. Alcuin complied with the king's wishes. 5 Further- 
more, according to some historians, it was upon this work 
that Charles and his theologians based their memorial.* 
This, however, cannot be proved with the evidence at hand. 

So far as the controversy itself was concerned, the most 

(1) Gieseler, Ecclesiastical History, translated by Davidson, Vol. 
II, p. 277, and authorities there cited. 

(2) Cf. Alcuin's Liber de processione Spiriti Sancti, Migne CCI, 
PP- 63-83. 

(3) The Libri Carolini were composed tinder Charles' name some 
time between September, 789, and September, 791, in opposition to the 
Decrees of the seventh council of Nicsea. They are not to be con- 
fused with the memorial of 85 chapters, which Angilbert took to 
Rome. Cf. Ep. 33, Jaffe VI, op. cit., p. 245. r or the text, see Migne, 
vol. XCVIII, pp. 999-1248. Upon the Libri Carolini was based the 
Capitulary de Imaginibus, published by the Council of Frankfort in 
794. Hauck, op. cit., II, pp. 315-316. 

(4) Cf. Hampe, Neues Archiv., Vol. XXI, p. 86; Jaffe, op. cit., VI, 
p. 220 and footnote; Gieseler, op. cit., II, p. 267 (footnote 2) ; Hefele, 
op. cit., Ill, p. 697; Hauck favors Angilbert as the author of the Libri 
Carolini. Vol. II, p. 316. 

(5) M. G. H. Leges, sect. II, I, p. 78. Cf. Simeon Dunelmensif 
ann. 792 ; Haddon and Stubbs, Church Councils of Great Britain, III, 
p. 469. 

(6) Hauck, op. cit., II, p. 315 (note i) ; Hampe, Neues Archiv., 
Vol. XXI, p. 86; Moeller, op. cit., II, p. 127. 





remarkable thing was the self-reliance and power evinced 
by the Frankish church. Affecting an indifference towards 
images, they contended that no one was bound either to 
worship or to destroy them. Hence, while they condemned 
the teaching of the Icondules as superstitious and idolatrous, 
they deplored the excesses of the Iconoclasts. The chief sig- 
nificance of the whole controversy lies in the fact that the 
higher and more cultured Frankish clergy were not yet pre- 
pared to adopt the worship of images. Though the people 
and the lower clergy would probably have preferred image- 
worship, the higher clergy set themselves against this phase 

f the materialism which was sweeping over the West. 
What measure of their opposition was due to the desire to 
advance the political purposes of their king, and what to 
their conscientious scruples, it would be hard to say. Be 
that as it may, it is largely due to their efforts that image- 
worship has never been domesticated thoroughly in the 
West. There it has remained largely an accessory, whereas 
in the East it is an expression of religious faith. 1 

The dogmatic works with which we have dealt thus far, ~~J 
make it very evident that Alcuin achieved little in the way 

f constructive work. However, he wrote one treatise in 
which he made an effort to evolve a system of theology. 
This is the DC Fide Sanctae Trinitatis. 2 Dealing as it does 
with the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Spirit, and the Resur- 
rection, the De Fide is an attempt to give an orderly account 
of Christianity. Unfortunately for Alcuin's reputation as a 
theologian, the work is entirely lacking in originality, being 
based on a treatise of Augustine. Probably the most sig- 
nificant thing about the whole work is the dedication, where- 
in he declares that one of his objects in writing it is to 
prove Augustine's dictum, that dialectic is essential to the 

(1) Harnack, op. cit., V, pp. 306, 307. 

(2) Migne, CC1, pp. 9-63. 



proper study of theology. 1 This, and certain other passages 
in his letters, wherein he defends the employment of dialectic 
in theological discussions, would seem to foreshadow the 
later scholasticism. 2 

The exegetical works of Alcuin are even less original, and 
certainly less important, than his dogmatic treatises. For 
the most part, they consist of commentaries on the Bible. 
In composing these, his sole aim is 'to cull' the best 
thoughts from the earlier commentators, and then to ex- 
pand them into one continuous exposition of the passage 
under discussion. It was far from his purpose to lay before 
the reader any original ideas about the texts under consider- 
ation. The Fathers are infallible ; it is not for him to criti- 
cise but to understand the truth as they explain it. In the 
dedication of his commentary on the Gospel of St. John, to 
which we have referred, he makes this very clear. 3 It may 
be noted that the first eleven chapters of this same com- 
mentary on St. John are taken word for word from that of 
, Bede on the same subject. The same plagiarism character- 
ises his other works. His commentary on Genesis is de- 
rived partly from Jerome, partly from Augustine; that on 
the Penitential Psalms, as he himself avows, is little more 
than a reproduction of the expositions of Augustine and 
Cassiodorus. The commentary on Ecclesiastes was based 
on Jerome; and his exposition of the epistles of Titus and 
Philemon are a reproduction of a similar work by the same 
Father. The commentary on the Songs of Solomon is de- 
rived from Bede. For his work on the Epistle to the 
Hebrews, he obtained most of his material from Chrysostom 
(in a Latin version). For the Apocalypse, he drew heavily 

(1) For the content of the De Fide Sanctae Trinitatis, see Gaskoiri, 
Alcuin, pp. 159-163. 

(2) Cf. "Beatum Paulum legimus cum Stoicis disputare, ut eorum 
eos disciplinis ab errore in viam veritatis transduceret," et seq. Ep. 307, 
p. 470. Cf. Ep. 136, and Grammatica, Migne CC1, p. 854. 

(3) Ep. 213, p, 357. 


from Bede, Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine. In his ex- 
egesis of St. Matthew, he departs to some extent from his 
method of excerpting ; he expresses his own ideas occasion- 
ally, though oftener than not he is satisfied with rearran- 
ging the homilies of Bede on the same subject. 1 

All of these commentaries are practical manuals or cate- 
chisms, designed to aid his pupils in their own spiritual 
progress or in the practical work of preaching. His inter- 
pretation is three-fold literal, allegorical, and moral. In 
connection with the second of these he gives free rein to 
his fancy; and is particularly fond of elaborating the mys- 
teries of numbers. 2 Sometimes also, as in the case of the 
commentary on Genesis, he throws his exposition into the 
form of a dialogue. 3 

Alcuin's exegesis pursues the well-beaten path of alle- 
gory which had been followed by the earliest Fathers in 
their attempts to reconcile the Old Testament with the Gos- 
pels. In this respect, the northern imagination, bred amid 
the lingering myths and legends of Anglo-Saxon barbarism, 
showed itself to be almost the equal of the long-trained 
Greek intellects of Alexandria. In the old Saxon literature, 
every thought assumed a form, every emotion found ex- 
pression, the forces of evil took on tangible shape. Their 
imagination conjured up a fantastic people dwarfs, giants, 
valkyries ; stronger, cleverer than men and lying in wait for 
their souls. Alcuin's works were full of such allegorical 
figures. According to his biographer, Alcuin himself came 
into contact with the devil. "He awoke in the night/' says 
the anonymous writer of the Vita, "the door of his cell 
opened, and he saw the terrible form of the evil one come 

(1) Cf. Monnier, Alcuin. pp. 206-208; Hauck, op. cit., II, p. 137; 
Mullinger, The Schools of Charles the Great, p. 90; Gaskoin, Alcuin, 
op. cit., p. 135. 

(2) See Chap. 3, p. 90. (3) Migne, CC, p. 515, et seq. 


stalking through." 1 He gives the old fantastic time-honored 
interpretations to various passages of Scripture. Thus, the 
'seven eyes' mentioned in Revelations, chapter v, verse 6, 
he thinks may refer to the Fathers of the church who have 
illuminated it with the light of their knowledge. 2 And the 
word abyss, so often encountered in Holy Writ, he explained 
as the 'waste of waters,' 'the heart of man,' 'the ineffable 
wisdom of God.' 3 Moreover, in one of the least important 
of his works, Interpretationes Nominum Hcbraicoruni, 
starting from the assumption that Christ was descended 
from all the patriarchs, he concluded that the mere enumera- 
tion of these ought to incite the faithful to virtue. Accord- 
ingly, he proceeded to mention the names of the Old Testa- 
ment worthies ; and along with them he gave a literal, moral 
and allegorical interpretation of each name. 4 

Likewise, in attempting to explain the passages of 
Scripture relating to the two swords, 5 he gives another ex- 
ample of his three-fold interpretation. The epistle in which 
he does so is written to Charlemagne, and is well worth some 
consideration in view of the fact that it suggests the mental 
attitude and foreshadows the method of the later scholastics. 
Thus, he first states the problem, the nodus vero propositae 
qmestionis, as he expresses it. This is none other than to 
harmonize two passages of Scripture seemingly incongruous 
and irreconcilable. To render the problem more difficult 
and so to add more zest to its solution, he quotes four other 
relevant passages. 6 The result is a Gordian knot impossible 
of solution to any less skilled than Alcuin himself. "If the 
sword is the Word of God," says Alcuin, "and the Lord 
used it in that sense when He commanded His disciples to 

(1) Vita Alchuini, op. cit., chap. 13. 

(2) Commentarium in Apocalypsin, bk. I, Migne CC. p. 1098. 

(3) Ep. 38. 

(4) Migne CC, pp. 723-729. 

(5) Luke xxii, 36; Matt, xxvi, 52. 

(6) Eph. vi, 17; Luke xxii, 38; Luke xxii, 50; John xviii, 10. 


buy it, then it follows that those who receive the Word of 
God shall perish by that same Word; for, did not Christ 
himself say "For all they that take the sword shall perish 
with the sword' P" 1 

Having stated his problem, Alcuin proceeds to the literal 
interpretation. "We must bear in mind," says he, "that 
''sword' has many possible interpretations, such as the 'pas- 
sion of Christ,' or 'division,' or 'vengeance,' 'judgment' or 
'the W r ord of God.' " 2 Thus with wearying prolixity and 
far-fetched analogies, he wanders with keen enjoyment from 
one irrelevant quotation to another. Finally, having dis- 
posed of these men of straw, he comes back to the problem 
in hand the reconciliation of the above passages. He states 
as a premise for the solution of the problem, that sword has 
always been used in these passages with a two- fold meaning. 
Following the interpretation of the Holy Fathers, lest his 
own "may seem presumptuous," 3 he explains that "sword" 
is used in one of two senses, signifying, first, "the Word of 
God," and, second, "an instrument of vengeance." 4 

Then follow the allegorical and moral interpretations. 
Thus, the "two swords" may refer to the body and the soul. 
These co-operate through faith ; for the latter, latent in the 
soul, showeth itself outwardly in works. Hence, also, the 
""two swords" may not inaptly be interpreted as faith and 
works. This interpretation gives him an opportunity to 
point his moral. "Let each one," says Alcuin, "look to the 
secret intents of his soul, and see to it that he bring forth 
good works. Let the priests be shining lights to their peo- 
ple, feeding them on the Bread of Life. Above all, let those 
in high places in the church labor through faith and good 

(1) Eph. vi, 17; Matt, xxvi, 52. 

(2) Cf. Luke ii, 35; Matt, x, 34; Romans xiii, 4; Isaiah xxxiv, 5; 
Deut. xxxii, 41 ; Eph. vi, 17. 

(3) "Ne quid nostra parvitas praesumptiose dicere videatur." Ep. 

136, p. 207. (4) Matt, xxvi, 52; Luke xxii, 51. 



works to effect the salvation of their flocks, knowing that 
those who labor most will reap the greatest reward." 1 

Thus Alcuin's exegesis is commonly naive and puerile^ 
The commentaries are dull and lifeless, unrelieved by any 
sudden or agreeable turn, such as meets us in the tracts 
against Adoptionism. With the exception of a few passages 
in his commentaries on St. John and on St. Matthew, there 
is no personal note, no color to relieve the tedium. Further- 
more, there is no speculation ; nothing in short but an inter- 
pretation of the truth as Alcuin saw it through the medium 
of the Fathers. Yet, his exegetical works exercised a cer- 
tain influence on his successors. His system of 'culling' 
from the Fathers served as a model both as to ideal and 
method for the commentators of the next century. More- 
over, he was in some slight measure a precursor of the later 
scholastics, since there are passages in his works which 
foreshadow the method and attitude of the later dialecti- 
cians. 2 

The moral works of Alcuin have no more claim to recog- 
nition as original treatises than his exegetical writings. 
They are largely based on St. Augustine's works; and we 
find in them the same ideas and the same manner of treat- 
ment. This is very noticeable in the De Aniinae ratione, 
where Augustine's three-fold division of the function of the 
'soul is reproduced. The moral treatises are three in num- 
ber. The first of these, the De Virtutibus et Vitiis, was 
composed for the use of Count Wido. 3 It begins in a char- 
acteristic way by asserting that obedience to God is the only 
true wisdom. The second work, the De Animae rationed 
deals with a kindred subject; it is dedicated to Gundrada. 
or Eulalia. "The love of God," he says to the latter, "is 

d) Ep. 136. 

(2) Cf. his Dialectica and introduction to De Fide Sanctae Trini- 
tatis. Cf. Epp. 136, 307. 

(3) Migne, CCI, pp. 613-639. (4) Ibid., pp. 639-649. Ep. 309. 


the highest good. Your chief duty consists in loving this 
same highest good, and you will attain to excellence only in 
so far as the love of God is implanted in your soul. For it 
is rational to love one's neighbor, the soul itself, and the 
body. 1 The passions which would else overturn and destroy 
this order are to be controlled if not suppressed by the four 
cardinal virtues." So far as the origin of the soul is con- 
cerned, it remains a mystery known to God alone. Further- 
more, it is immaterial, impalpable, and invisible; there are 
found in it only the functions of understanding, will, and 
memory. 2 

Alcuin's third moral work was a brief treatise on con- 
fession. It was intended as a corrective against a certain 
indifference among the Franks with respect to the con- 
fessional. In a letter to the boys of St. Martin he writes, 
"All sins are known to God; there is no concealing them; 
therefore, confess and do penance for your sins. Verily, 
confession is as medicine to the soul ; by it you will foil your 
adversary, the devil, and save your souls. 3 But if ye will not 
confess to the priest," he says elsewhere, "neither will ye 
confess to God. The priest has the power of binding or 
loosing and of reconciling man with God; but how can his 
good offices avail those whose sins he knoweth not ? Hence," 
he concludes, "have recourse to the specific of confession, 
and cleanse thyself with the medicine of penance that thou 
mayest be saved." 4 

In connection with the moral treatises, the biographical 
works may be mentioned. In aim and characteristics, they 
bear a strong resemblance to those with which we have just 
been dealing. They are four in number, and for the most 

(1) Ep. 309. Cf. Migne CCI, p. 641. 

(2) "Si totas non habet, quia haec omnia ad unum charitatis in- 
tendunt preceptum, quae sola in catholicae fidei veritate, dignam efficiet 
animam habitatione sanctae Trinitatis." Migne CCI, p. 646. Cf. Ep. 
309. De Trinitate, X, 12, Migne XLII, p. 984. 

(3) Ep. 131 ; Cf. Migne CCI, pp. 649-655. (4) Ep. 138. 


part are adaptations or abridgments from an earlier biog- 
rapher. 1 Full of unbounded admiration for the saints whose 
lives he is depicting, he not only dilates on their heroic ca- 
reers, their virtues and their sanctity, but he accepts and 
passes on to posterity a goodly number of unauthenticated 
miracles and prodigies, which tradition or preceding biog- 
raphers have ascribed to them. 2 These are modeled for the 
most part upon the miracles of Christ and of the Apostles. 
St. Martin and St. Riquier, St. Vedast and St. Willibrord, all 
have the gift of prophecy and of miraculous power. St. 
Willibrord, for example, produces from four flasks wine 
enough to satisfy forty persons. All of these holy men heal 
the sick, restore the lame, the halt and the blind, and bring 
the dead back to life. A helpless paralytic recovers health 
and vigor through the saving grace of St. Willibrord ; 3 three 
dead men, one of them the son of a widowed mother, are re- 
stored to their friends by the miraculous power of St. Mar- 
tin. 4 Nor is the human interest lacking. Alcuin does not fail 
to appeal to the martial spirit of his age. These same saints, 
who with self-sacrificing devotion bare their heads to the 
assassin's sword, upon occasion rise in righteous indigna- 
tion, and, with the courage of Berserkers, rush into the midst 
of the heathen, firing their temples or putting them to flight 
while revelling in some ungodly orgy. 5 Such stories as these 
aroused the imagination of the Saxon and of the Frank, and 
incited them to emulation. They subserved Alcuin's pur- 
pose, which was to edify rather than to inform; and the re- 
sult is a homily rather than a biography. In fact, following 
the biography proper, there invariably comes a homily, 
wherein the author dilates upon the resplendent virtues and 

(1) Gaskoin, Alcuin, op. cit., p. 139. 

(2) De Vita Sancti Martini Turonensis, chaps. 8, 12 Migne CCI, 
pp. 657-664. 

(3) Vita Sancti Willibrordi, chap. 28, Jaffe, op. cit., VI, p. 58. 

(4) Vita S. Martini, op. cit., chap. 5, Migne CCI, p. 660. 

(5) Ibid., et infra. 


the godlike deeds of his heroes. As a fitting climax there is 
an account of the translation of each of the saints to the 
beatific joys of heaven. 1 

From this short survey of Alcuin's theological works, it 
is apparent that his predominant characteristic is an exag- 
gerated veneration for the past. Like his contemporaries, he 
is wofully ignorant when compared with the writers of an- 
cient and of modern times ; but he had sense and intelligence 
enough to perceive his limitations. His feeling of weakness 
and helplessness created in him a deep distrust which made 
all original work impossible. For Alcuin and his contem- 
poraries, it was a paramount necessity to defend the faith 
in that form in which it had been delivered to them by the 
saints. What the Scriptures taught, what the fathers and 
the church had sanctioned, that they believed, nothing more, 
nothing less. Tertullian's credo ut intelligam was the basic 
principle of their spiritual life. Their unquestioned accept- 
ance of tradition was so complete as well-nigh to devitalize 
faith; for they accepted dogmas without hesitation, and 
failed to bring them into connection with that religious mo- 
tive which must inspire spiritual life. Yet there is com- 
pensation. For if their theology is formal, utterly lacking in 
originality or force, their trust is sublime, the sincerity of 
heir faith unmistakable. 

(i) St. Willibrord was borne to heaven by angels. "Nam vidisse 
se testabatur animam sanctissimi Patris sui cum magna luminis clan- 
tate, cum consona canentium laude, ab angelicis exercitibus ad coelorum 
regna portari." Chap. 26, Jaffe. op cit., VI, p. 58. 



ALTHOUGH to the theologian the Carolingian Age has lit- 
tle to offer in the way of constructive work, to the historian 
of civilization the whole era is interesting. In the earlier 
part of the period, during the reign of Charles the Great, 
the organization of the Prankish kingdom and church was 
being completed. Then, too, as a fitting consummation to 
Charles' career of conquest, the Empire was re-established 
in the West. Likewise, that other universal power, the 
Papacy, under the protection of the Prankish king, was 
laying the foundations for its future growth and develop- 
ment. At the same time, there was emerging and develop- 
ing the Feudal System, in a sense the enemy of both Church 
and State, of Papacy and of Empire. In fact, society was 
already taking on many of those characteristics which dis- 
tinguished it during the Middle Ages. 

f One of the institutions to which Alcuin devotes consider- 
able attention is the Papacy. As portrayed by him, it was 
as yet weak and dependent, but very ambitious. Hadrian 
and Leo III, the bishops of Rome, its incumbents during 
his time, were aware both of the limitations and the possi- 
bilities of the papal power, and pursued a consistent policy 
toward the temporal rulers of their time. Beset with foes 
in Italy and in Rome itself, deserted by the Eastern Empe- 
rors, they saw the absolute need for maintaining the alliance 
with the powerful Prankish kings. Yet, with a growing 



prescience of the dignity and possibilities of their own power, 
they were quick to seize every vantage point which would 
increase the prerogatives of the Papal See. And on several 
occasions, notably during the well-known controversies over 
Image- Worship and the filioquc, they upheld the preten- 
sions of the Papacy so persistently as to incur the anger of 
Charles, thereby endangering the alliance between it and the 
Prankish kings. 

However, circumstances were such as to force the popes 
of Alcuin's time to cling to the Prankish alliance. The en- 
croachments of the Arian Lombards, together with the 
popes' uncertain position in Rome itself, had first forced 
them to appeal for aid to the Prankish kings. The well- 
known conspiracy of Campulus and Paschalis against Pope 
Leo III is a case in point. When a rumor reached Alcuin to 
the effect that a Roman mob had set upon the pope and mal- 
treated him, Alcuin was greatly dismayed and angered. "O, 
perverse people," he exclaims fiercely, "ye have blinded your 
own head." And he at once implored Charles to make 
peace with the Saxons so that he might be able to go to Rome 
and reinstate the Pope. 1 After Charles had gone to Rome, 
and the Pope, owing to his good offices, had triumphed 
over his foes, Alcuin broke forth into a veritable psean of 
thanksgiving and praise. 2 But it is most significant that 
the Pope was restored to his position only after what was 
practically a trial on charges. 3 Indeed, Alcuin hints that 
for a time Charles actually contemplated asking Leo to re- 
sign. 4 A more humiliating position for the 'Servant of the 
Servants of God' can hardly be conceived; seldom in all its 

(1) Epp. 173, 174, i79- 

(2) "O dulcissime, decus populi christiani, o defensio ecclesiaruni 
Christi, consolatio vitae praesentis." Ep. 177. 

(3) It would appear that neither Alcuin nor Charles were sure of 
Pope Leo's innocence. Cf. Epp. 179, 184, 214, 216, 218. Einhardi 
Annales, M. G. H. SS. I, pp. 188-199. 

(4) Alcuin dissuaded Charles from so doing. Cf. Epp. 178, 179. 


existence has the Papacy furnished a more striking example 
of pitiable dependence upon the temporal power. 

Pope Leo realized that his position had been greatly 
weakened by these events. In his subsequent letters to 
Charles, 1 he confessed that as God had made the Prankish 
king the guardian of the ecclesiastical peace, the Pope looked 
to him not alone to defend the temporality of the Church, 
but to maintain its spiritual prerogatives as well. 2 On the 
other hand, he held it to be the duty of the Church to second 
Charles in all his plans, while he felt it incumbent on him- 
self to communicate to the emperor anything of importance 
which might affect the imperial power of Italy or through- 
out the West. 3 Under such circumstances Charles was not 
likely to resign a single prerogative in favor of the Papacy. 4 
There were times when he actually usurped that which the 
Papacy confidently expected him to protect. In a letter to 
Pope Leo III, he roughly delimited the respective spheres of 
influence of the papal and temporal powers as follows. "It 
is our task," he says, "to protect the Holy Church of Christ 
from the heathen who assail it abroad, as well as to enforce 
a recognition of the Catholic faith within our borders. It is 
your duty, O Holy Father, to support our warlike service 
with hands uplifted to God, so that the Christian people, led 
of God and aided by your prayers, may triumph every- 
where/' 5 Thus, there was little left to the Papacy save the 
exercise of the purely spiritual functions. 6 

(1) Ten letters in all. Hampe in M. G. H. Epistol. Vol. V, pp. 

(2) "Ad hoc omnipotens et invisibilis Deus noster vestram a Deo 
protectam imperialem potentiam sanctae suae ecclesiae fecit esse cus- 
todem. .../>. 9. M. G. H. Epistol. Vol. V, pp. 100. (3) Ibid., 
Epp. 2, 6, 7, 8, M. G. H. Epist., Vol. V. 

(4) Hauck, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands, op. cit., II, pp. 109, 

(5) Codex Carolinae, Ep. 10. M. G. H. Epistol. Vol. V, pp. 100. Cf. 
Introduction to Admonitio Generalis, M. G. H. Leg., Sect. II, Vol. I, 
P- 54- 

(6) "A 1'Empereur 1'action, au Pope la priere." Kleinclausz, L' Em- 
pire Carolingien ses origines et ses transformations, p. 213. 


The great men of Alcuin's day acquiesced in Charles' con- 
ception of the relations of the Papacy to the temporal pow- 
ers. Alcuin, though a firm and loyal friend of the Pope, is 
in substantial agreement with the views of Charles. To 
him the Pope is the Head of the Church, opening to the 
faithful the gates of Paradise; he is the heir of all the 
Fathers of the Ages and sitteth in their place; upon his 
shoulders their mantle of authority and of power hath 
fallen. 1 He is the light of life, the chief ornament of re- 
ligion, the vicar of the Apostles and the anointed of God. 2 
From these expressions, it is evident that Alcuin is a firm 
upholder of the Petrine tradition; in matters of doctrine 
the authority of Rome is paramount. Further than this, 
however, he does not go ; he makes no claim for the Papacy 
save that of precedence. 3 On the contrary, recognizing its 
dangers and needs, he seeks rather to draw it and the tem- 
poral powers together as necessary to each other and to 
the Church. 4 

"Power," says Alcuin on one occasion, "is divided be- 
tween the spiritual and temporal powers; the latter must 
be the defenders of the former, and, as such, are instru- 
ments of vengeance rending their adversaries and punishing 
the wicked for their evil deeds; whereas the spiritual, full 
of saving grace and power, doth open the portals of Heaven 
to the faithful and doth give joy never ending to the good." 5 
Again, he writes to Charles : "Hitherto, there have been 
three powers, pre-eminent above all others. First of all, 
there is His Eminence the Pope, the Vicar of Christ, who, 

(1) Ep. 234. Cf. Epp. 94, 127, 125, 137, n7, 179- 

(2) "Ecce tu, sanctissime pater, pontifex a Deo electus, vicarius 
apostolorum heres patrum, princeps ecclesiae, unius inmaculatae co- 
lumbae nutritor. Ep. 94. Cf. Epp. 27, 125. (3) Ep. 242, Jaffe, op. cit., 
Cf. Ep. 174- 

(4) "Illi sint, id est saeculares, defensores vestri, vos intercessores 
illorum." Cf. "Divisa est potestas saecularis et pptestas spiritalis; ilia 
portat gladium mortis in marm, haec clavem vitae in lingua." Ep. 17. 

(5) Ep. 17. 


though even now most grievously ill-treated, (as we know 
from your letter), is wont to rule as the successor of Peter, 
the Chief of the Apostles. In the second place, cometh the 
head of the secular powers, the Emperor, who of late, as 
everyone knoweth, hath been most impiously deposed by his 
own people. In the third place, there is the royal power, to 
which dignity it hath pleased our Lord Jesus Christ to ele- 
vate thee, vouchsafing thee more power, more wisdom and 
more glory than to the other two potentates." 1 Elsewhere 
he describes the Papacy as the successor to St. Peter, the 
heir to a great power, the light of wisdom, the shepherd of 
the flock, feeding it upon the bread of life, nurturing it with 
the flowers of virtue and the Word of God, bearing His 
messages to the people, and interceding with Him for their 
sins. 2 The temporal ruler, on the other hand, is an active, 
militant force, enforcing the decrees of the Pope, propagat- 
ing Christianity, regulating and disciplining the clergy and 
protecting the Church against heretic and heathen. 3 It is 
highly probable that Alcuin's training is partially responsi- 
ble for his attitude. For the Anglo-Saxon monks and clergy, 
though zealous adherents of the Roman Church, had allowed 
their enthusiasm to find its chief vent in an advocacy of Ro- 
man doctrines and Roman liturgy. 4 They were far from 
being a unit in favor of the dominating and immediate influ- 
ence of the Papacy over the national church in England. 5 
Moreover, the English, though Romanic in religion, were 
Teutonic in all things else, in literature, language and law. 
So Alcuin may well have inherited such a preference for 
national independence and for a strong national church as 

(1) Ep. 174. 

(2) "Huius te, excellentissime pater, ut vicarium sanctissimae sedis 
agnosco, ita et mirificae potestatis heredem esse fateor." Ep. 27. 

(3) Epp. 174. Cf. Epp. 238, 17, 41, 148. 

(4) Cf Synods of Cloveshoe and Pincanhale, Haddan & Stubbs, 
Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and 
Ireland, Vol. Ill, pp. 360, 361, 443. 

(5) Haddan & Stubbs, Remains, pp. 208, 209, 223. 


o induce him to support Charles in his assumption of su- 
remacy in ecclesiastical matters. 

Charles was but reaping the advantages of the ecclesias- 
tical policy of the Merovingians. The latter had practically 

udalized the Church, despite its protests and in utter dis- 
rd of its canons. 1 During the rule of the first of the 
mayors of the Palace, the secularization of the Church had 
gone on at such a pace that the clergy found it all but use- 
less to protest. 2 Boniface himself, the most uncompromis- 
ing advocate of ecclesiastical privilege, received his archi- 
episcopal see of Mainz from his royal patrons. It is clear, 
then, that Charles had the right of investiture both by tradi- 
tion and by prescription. It is equally evident from the 
official documents of the time, as well as from the testimony 
of the clergy themselves, that he used this prerogative to the 
full. 3 Alcuin undoubtedly received his benefices of St. Loup, 
of Ferrieres and of Tours from the king. Later in life, he 
had these preferments in mind when he thanked the emperor 
for all the kindnesses which the latter had shown him. 4 
And when, in 803, the emperor conceded to the people and 
the clergy the right to elect their own bishops, it was a favor 
granted, not an acknowledgment of a pre-existing privi- 
lege. 5 

In other respects, Charles' mastery over the Prankish 
church is even more evident. He was- disposed to regard 
the disciplining of the clergy as his own special prerogative. 
In his capitularies, he enumerated their vices, mapped out 
their line of conduct, berated their negligence, and held them 


(i) Cf. Concil. Paris III, arm 557, canon 8, Hefele, Concilienge- 
hichte, III, p. 13. Concil. Paris V, ann 614, canons 2 and 3, ibid., p. 

68. Concil. Remens, ann. 625, canon I, ibid., p. 75. Concil. Cabillon, 

ann. 644, canon 10, ibid., p. 03. 

(2) Hefele, op. cit., Ill, pp. 518-521. 

(3) Altfridi, Vita S. Liudgeri, caps. 19, 20, M. G. H. SS. II, pp. 410- 
411. Vita S. Bonifatii, cap. 10, ibid., p. 347. (4) Ep. 238. 

(5) Lea, Studies in Church History, p. 93, and authorities there 


up to their duties. It is evident, too, from the letters of the 
bishops, that they accepted him as the head of the Prankish 
Church. They humiliated themselves, accused themselves 
of negligence, and of idleness ; they blessed the emperor for 
having aroused them from their indifference; they pro- 
claimed the necessity of obeying his orders, which, like his 
person, they considered as holy. 1 They seemed to have re- 
garded his consecration as king and emperor as having con- 
ferred upon him special prerogatives over the Church. 2 
Moreover, it is a well-known fact, that the Councils of the 
Prankish Church met at his bidding, discussed the matters 
which he put before them, and, what is more, decided them 
according to his will. "He issued his rescripts on ecclesias- 
tical matters with fully as much authority as when legislat- 
ing on matters purely secular." 3 It is very significant, too, 
that contemporaries, including the clergy, should have recog- 
nized the king's right to approve the doctrines as well as to 
regulate the policy of the Prankish Church. Alcuin, for ex- 
ample, dedicated to him his tract on the Trinity as the one 
best fitted to judge of its merits; 4 ' nor did he presume to 
publish his larger tract against Felix until Charles had 
deemed it worthy to be presented to the clergy. 5 Thus the 
Prankish king was complete master of the Prankish Church, 
appointing its bishops, disciplining its clergy, confirming its 

(1) Epistolae Carolinae, Epp. 26-44. Cf. especially Epp. 28, 34, 37, 
38, 42, in Jaffe op. cit., IV, pp. 335-430. 

(2) Thus Leidrad in his Liber de Sacramento Baptismi, says : "In 
quibus quoque verbis notandum est quod post unctionem imo per 
unctionem dirigatur spiritus domini in David, sicut in Ecclesia credi- 
mus per chrismatis unctionem et manus impositionem dari Spiritum 
sanctum." Migne, XCIX, p. 864. Cf. Theodulph, Ep. 24, M. G. H. 
Epistol. IV, p. 534. 

(3) Hefele, op. cit., II, pp. 678-693 and 721. Cf. Lea, Studies in 
Church History, op. cit., p. 62. 

(4) "Neque enim quemquum magis decet vel meliora nosse vel 
plura quam imperatorem, cuius doctrina omnibus potest prodesse 
subjeclis." Ep. 257, p. 415. 

(5) Ep. 202, p. 335. Cf. Epp. 203, 201. 


doctrines. 1 For the most part, he used his great power with 
wisdom and discretion ; he directed his efforts along several 
lines, notably, the revision of the liturgy, the organization 
of the Prankish clergy, and the reform of their morals and 
those of the people in general. 

The nature and scope of Charles' liturgical reforms were 
letermined by his desire to secure a uniformity in the 
'hurch commensurate with that which he was trying to 

:ure in the realm of political affairs. The Prankish Church 
with its numberless local 'uses' could not be expected to 
irnish the requisite model. Accordingly, he decided to 

>pt the Roman use, so that the Prankish and Roman 

lurches, one in doctrine and in faith, should be one in 
)rm and in ritual. The Roman chant, the Roman sacra- 

mtary, the Roman calendar and the Roman form of bap- 
tism were all to be approved. 2 In carrying out his sweeping 
policy of reform, Charles was at once confronted by a diffi- 
culty. The Prankish uses were in the field ; they could not 
be ousted by a mere command ; they must be gradually modi- 
fied, revised and brought into uniformity with the use of 
Rome. To execute this task required a man of great tact 
id ripe scholarship, who, while recognizing the difficulties 
the work in hand, and the need for moderation, would 
yet be in hearty sympathy with its purpose. Such a man 
was Alcuin. 

Alcuin wholly approved of Charles' efforts to make the 
Prankish liturgy conform to that of Rom^. Yet his train- 
ing and experience had been such as to counsel moderation. 
In his own land, there had been a struggle between two rival 
liturgies, and knowing the history of that struggle from the 
compromise under Theodore of Tarsus to the ultimate tri- 

(1) Kleinclausz, op. cit., p. 212. Fustel de Coulanges Les Trans- 
formations de la Royaute, p. 524. 

(2) Duplex legationis Edictum, chaps. 23, 24. M. G. H. Leg., Sect. 
II, I, p. 64. 


umph in his own day of the Roman purists at the Councils 
of Cloveshoe and Pincanhale, 1 he was not likely to be too 
arbitrary nor too radical in dealing with a similar question 
in Frankland. This is very evident from a reply to Eanbald, 
Archbishop of York, who had requested him to compile a 
new sacramentary. "Have you not an abundance of sacra- 
mentaries in the Roman style," says he, "and yet others of 
a larger size, representing an older use?" "And," adds he, 
very pertinently, "I would fain have had you teach your 
clergy something of the Roman Order ... so that the 
ecclesiastical ceremonies might be performed in an orderly, 
respectful way." 2 Manifestly, while Alcuin's love of order 
led him to prefer the Roman service-books, he was willing 
to supplement them by the local uses. It was in such a 
spirit of compromise that he composed the liturgical works 
ascribed to him. 

' Alcuin's liturgical works may be classified, first as official, 
or quasi-official, and second as unofficial. To the first class 
belong the homiliary, a lectionary and a sacramentary, all 
designed for use in public worship. About the origin of 
these, we know all too little. Indeed, it is by no means cer- 
tain that any copy of the homiliary survives, for the so-called 
homiliary of Alcuin, printed under his name in the fifteenth 
and sixteenth centuries, was the work of Paulus Diaconus. 3 
Alcuin's homiliary appears to have consisted of two volumes 
of sermons collected from the Fathers ; 4 consequently it filled 
a long-felt need by thus supplying sermons ready to hand 

(1) Haddan and Stubbs, op. tit., Ill, pp. 367-368. 

(2) "Numquid non habes Romano more ordinatos libellos sacra- 
torios abundanter? Habes quoque et veteris consuetudinis sufficienter 
sacramentaria maiora. Quid opus est nova condere, dum vetera suffi- 
ciunt?" Ep. 226, p. 370. 

(3) Recent researches have discovered a manuscript of the twelfth 
century, which has on the back of the last leaf of it the inscription 
"Omilie Alcuini de dominicis per anni circulum et de quibusdam aliis 
diebus." This would appear to be Alcuin's homiliary. Cf. Gaskoin, 
op. tit., pp. 222, 223. Morin, L'homelaire d' Alcuin retrouve. 

(4) Vita Alchuini, op. cit., chap. 12. 



to those of the clergy who were too ignorant to write their 
own. 1 Alcuin's second liturgical work was the 'compan- 
ion' or lectionary, which, in its present form, contains two 
hundred and forty-two epistles for reading on Sundays, fast 
and holy days. 2 The third and last of Alcuin's official works 
was the sacramentary. It consisted of the Gregorian sacra- 
icntary, followed by a so-called preface and a supplement. 3 
lirough these liturgical works, and especially through his 
sacramentary, he did much to restore order in the cere- 
monies of the church as well as to bring about conformity 
with the liturgy of Rome. 

Besides his official works, Alcuin wrote a number of other 
treatises on liturgical subjects. Among them is his Liber 
Sacramentorum; it is a collection of masses and was in- 
tended for monastic rather than for general use. 4 The same 
is true of the De Psalmorum Usu. This classified the Psalms 
according to their subject matter, and showed their appro- 
priateness to various moods and circumstances. 5 Another 
work, the Officia per Ferias, or Breviarum, as it is some- 
times called, was written for Charles the Great himself, or 
for his son and namesake. It contains a number of Psalms 
assigned in seven portions, according to their contents, to 
the seven days of the week; a collect follows every psalm, 
and there is a litany of saints for each day. Considerable in- 
terest attaches to this work in view of the fact that it is 
said to have brought the w r ord 'brevarium' into general use. 6 

(1) Epp. 136, 1 10, 113, 116, 173. 

(2) Gaskoin, op oil., pp. 225-231. For the text, see Ranke, E., 
Perikopensystem, appendix, iv-xxvi. 

(3) Gaskoin, op. cit., pp. 226-227. 

(4) For text, see Migne CCI, pp. 445-466. 

(5) Suitable prayers were interspersed throughout the work, and 
a tabulation of these under fourteen heads concluded the work. Ibid., 
pp. 465-508. 

(6) Alcuin uses the word Breviarium in his introduction : "Quia 
vos rogastis, ut scriberemus vobis breviarium comatico sermone," et 
seq. Ep. 304. Cf. Migne CCI, p. 509. Batiffol, History of the Roman 
Breviary, p. 205. For text, see Migne, CCI, pp. 509-612. 


Along with his liturgical works we may mention his 
treatise on baptism, written to a priest called Odwin, and 
designed as a warning to the monks of Septimania against 
the various malpractices of the Spanish Church, notably the 
substitution of single for trine immersion. 1 This work, to- 
gether with those mentioned above, contains the form of 
worship, both general and special, for ecclesiastical services. 
f" Alcuin's liturgical works, based as they were principally 
upon the older Roman liturgies, must have greatly aided 
Charles' plans for establishing ecclesiastical uniformity 
throughout the Prankish Church. Moreover, though it can- 
not be very definitely proved, there is some evidence to show 
that Alcuin played a role in carrying out another part of 
Charles' ecclesiastical program, namely, the revision of the 
Scriptures. In dedicating his Commentary on the Book of 
vSt. John to Gisla and Rodtruda, he writes, "I should have 
sent you the whole Commentary on St. John, had I not been 
fully occupied in complying with the king's command to 
amend the versions of the Old and New Testaments." 2 And 
again, in one of his carmina he writes : "Receive, O king, 
this little gift, token of the great love thy Alcuin bears thee. 
The great ones of earth bring thee precious stones, but I in 
my poverty bring thee these two little books, lest on that 
great day I should come empty-handed into thy presence, 
O most pious and revered king. 3 These I have carefully 
corrected and bound together in one great volume and have 
sent them to you through the medium of our very dear son, 
our faithful servant." 4 Thus there is some ground for ac- 
cepting the tradition that the Carolingian revision of the 
Bible was the work of Alcuin. 

(i) Epp. 134, 137- (2) Epp. 195, 262. 

(3) Carmen, 65, M. G. H. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev., op. cit., I, p. 283. 

(4) Carmen, 65, 69, ibid., pp. 283, 284, 288. It appears that three 
Bibles were revised by him or under his inspection. Cf. Dedicatory 
Poems, Carmen, 65, ibid., I, pp. 283-285. 


A large measure of Charles' success in his ecclesiastical 
reforms was due to the effective control which he exercised 
over the Prankish clergy. This was made possible in the 
first place by his assumption of the right to appoint the 
higher clergy. But his mastery could not be complete until 
he had effected such an organization as would extend his 
disciplinary power over every phase of ecclesiastical activity. 
This was a difficult task to perform. Owing to the inter- 
ference of the Merovingian kings, the whole church had | 
tended to disintegrate ; the system of metropolitans and pro- 
vincial synods was gradually dying out in western Europe; 1 
the diocesan bishops were becoming more and more inde- 
pendent ; while the clergy, especially that portion which may 
be called 'unattached,' were less and less inclined to obey 
their Bishop. The unattached clergy were very numerous; 
they served a church which had been founded upon an estate 
by its owner and were appointed, paid and removed by him ; 
they were thus exempt from outside interference, civil or 
ecclesiastical. 2 Under such circumstances, discipline was 
clearly impossible. 

Charles the Great sought a remedy. He bent his energies 
to secure, first, the subordination of the clergy to the bishop 
in the chief city of their district; second, to co-ordinate the 
bishops of a province into a single body with the metropoli- 
tan at their head; and third, of course, to secure the de- 
pendence of the latter upon the royal or imperial power. 
The administrative machinery, he contemplated, was almost 
perfect in theory. However, evidences are not lacking to 
show that it was far from being so in actual practice. In his 
circular letter to his vassals and administrative officers, 

(1) Hatch, op. cit., pp. 124-126. 

(2) Men sold churches and transferred them. "De Ecclesiis quae 
ab ingenuis hominibus construuntur ; licet eas tradere, vendere. . . ." 
Capitulary Francofurt., 794 A.D., cap. 54. M. G. H. Leg., op. cit., II, 
I, P. 78. 


Charles complained that some of his clergy had presumed to 
disobey their bishops, contrary to the laws and the canons, 
and that some of the priests had been installed in churches 
without episcopal consent. 1 

As a remedial measure, looking especially to the enforce- 
ment of discipline, Charles ordered the priests to report to 
the bishops once a year, while the latter were also required 
to visit every priest's church annually. 2 There were three 
purposes subserved by these visitations. In the first place, it 
gave the bishops an opportunity to preach an important 
duty which they commonly neglected, as is evident from the 
letters of Alcuin. The latter never lost an opportunity to 
exhort them to preach, never failed to praise them for so 
doing, nor forgot to reprove them when they failed in this 
respect. 3 In the second place, the visitation of the bishop 
enabled him to check those heretical practices which tended 
to creep into the administration of the sacraments, especially 
in those of confirmation and baptism. Alcuin, for example, 
in view of the heresies of the Spanish Church, deemed it 
necessary to give the most complete and definite instructions 
as to how the sacrament of baptism was to be administered 
to catechumens. 4 The third purpose served was that of dis- 
cipline. From the time of Charles, the bishop in his tour 
of visitation acted partly as an officer of the church, partly 
as an officer of the state. He was commonly invested with 
power to investigate and adjudge cases of murder, adultery, 
pagan- worship, and other wrong-doings contrary to the laws 
of God and man. Indeed, there were times when these 

(1) M. G. H. Leg., op. cit., II, I, pp. 80, 52-62. 

(2) Hatch, op. cit., p. 34. 

(3) "Et maxime praedicatores ecclesiae Christi caritatem redemp- 
toris nostri per verba sedulae praedicationis populis ostendant." Ep. 136. 
Cf. Epp. 301, 291, 169, 311, 114. 

(4) Ep. 113. Cf. Ep. 68, Jaffe, VI, op. cit. 


administrative and judicial duties left the bishop little time 
for his spiritual functions. 1 

Another feature of the organization of the Prankish 
Church in Alcuin's day was the development of the parochial 
system. Two sets of causes operated to establish it. The 
first of these centres around the sacrament of baptism. 
Owing to the disorganization, incident to the disruption of 
the Roman empire, the elaborate ceremonial which had once 
attended the performance of this sacrament had almost died 
out, inasmuch as it had become increasingly difficult for the 
catechumens to assemble at one place and at one time, as 
they had done formerly. 2 Consequently, there was a great 
lack of uniformity and much irregularity in the administra- 
tion of this sacrament. Hence it became necessary 
to restrict preaching at the celebration of the sacra- 
ments of baptism, mass and confirmation, to certain 
churches. 3 These were called 'baptismal' churches, and 
they naturally obtained precedence and developed into the 
parish church. 

The second cause which contributed to the establishment 
of the parish was the tithes. The latter, as a Christian in- 
stitution, would seem to date from the eighth century ; they 
are hardly mentioned during the first seven centuries; the 
regulations of councils practically ignore them, and there 
are no civil enactments in regard to them. 4 They came from 
the state to the church and were originally rents paid for 
the church lands with which the Prankish kings rewarded 

(1) "De angustia mentis vestrae pro servitio saeculari adversus 
sanctitatis vestrae dignitatem, ita ut non liceat melioribus instare of- 
ficiis, ne animarum gregis Christi lucris inservire." Ep. 26$. 

(2) Hatch, op. cit., pp. 83, 84. 

(3) Condi. Vernense, c. 7, 755 A.D. Hefele, op. cit., Ill, p. 589. 
Cf. Ep. 68, Jaffa, VI, p. 316. 

(4) The first special mention of them occurs in a letter of Pope 
Zachary in 748 A.D. Jaffe Regesta, No. 2161. The first civil enact- 
ment in regard to them is Charles' Capitulary Rhispacensia et Frisingen- 
sia, c. 13, M. G. H. Leg., Sect. II, I, p. 228. 


their soldiers. It was this which made Charles so anxious 
to enforce their collection, but this was not his only mo- 
tive. The fact that they were paid only to the 'baptismal' 
churches tended to develope the parochial system, and 
strengthen greatly the episcopal authority. Hence, Charles 
was particularly desirous that the Saxons and other bar- 
barians should pay tithes, inasmuch as they furnished him 
with the means of organizing and of supporting the church 
upon which he relied for help in civilizing these people. 
However, it is evident from Alcuin's lukewarm support of 
tithes that they were as yet far from being a fixed tradition 
in the church. "It may be questioned," says he, "whether 
tithes were anywhere exacted by the apostles ; and if we our- 
selves, born and bred in the faith, do not care to give tithes, 
how much more must the fierce barbarians, lately converted, 
resent their exaction." 1 So far as the latter were concerned, 
he felt that it would be wise to relinquish them for a time, 
"even at the expense of the public need." 2 

Alcuin's objection was well taken. The whole ecclesias- 
tical policy of the great king towards the barbarians lacked 
something of that spirit of moderation which marked his 
dealings with his own people. He wished to make the 
bounds of Christendom coterminous with those of his 
kingdom ; in accomplishing this end he was impatient, harsh 
and unscrupulous in his dealings with the barbarians. Thus 4 
prisoners of war who forswore paganism and accepted bap- 
tism, were restored to liberty and freed from tribute; while 
those who refused to do so were beheaded. 3 Alcuin deplores 
this policy and ventures to suggest to Charles that he entreat 
the barbarians gently as "the first fruits of the faith," 

(1) Ep. 1 10, p. 158. 

(2) "Quia forte melius est, vel aliquanto spatio ut remittatur pub- 
lica necessitas, donee fides cordibus radicitus inolescat" Ep. 174, p. 289. 
Cf. Ep. no, p. 158. 

(3) Vita Sturmii, M. G. H. SS., op. cit., II, p. 376. Cf. Epp. 107, 
no, in, 113, and Jaffe, op. cit., VI, Ep. 68, pp. 311-318. 


teaching them and encouraging them with words of advice 
and comfort. 1 "If," says he, more boldly, elsewhere, "the 
same pains had been taken to preach to them the easy yoke 
and light burden of Christ as has been done to collect tithes, 
and to punish the slightest infringement of the laws on their 
part, then they would no longer abhor and repel baptism." 2 

However mistaken Charles' policy towards the barbarians, 
there can be no question but that he exercised a salutary in- 
fluence on the Prankish Church in general. Under his im- 
pelling genius, the Church of the West acquired, in a large 
measure, that organization which characterized it during the 
Middle Ages. The parochial system took shape and form, 
the jurisdiction of the bishops was extended, and their au- 
thority greatly strengthened. The latter, in turn, were sub- 
jected to the metropolitan. But the system was not carried 
to its logical conclusion ; for the metropolitans, contrary to 
the plan of St. Boniface, were the subordinates, not of the 
Papacy, but of the King and Emperor. The archbishops 
and the provincial council, except in matters of internal dis- 
cipline, were superseded by the nation. And the great 
Prankish Church he had organized was controlled by the 
national assemblies, to which he summoned laymen and 
ecclesiastics alike. 

The third institution of which Alcuin treats is the Em- 
pire. Though there is nothing in his letters that sheds new 
light upon the circumstances of its founding, they serve well 
as an illustration of the conception of the empire which ob- 
tained in his day. Contemporaries are at one in regarding it 
as a glorious acquisition of the Prankish kingdom. Alcuin 
speaks of the "right noble Charles who governed the king- 
dom of the Franks most gloriously." 3 He and his con- 

(i) Ep. 113. . (2) Ep. in. 

(3) "Qui modo cum triumphis maximis et omni dignitate gloriosis- 
sime Francorum regit imperium." Vita Sancti Willibrordi, cap. 23, 
Jaffe, op. cit., VI, p. 56. Cf. "Qui regnum Francorum nobiliter am- 


temporaries view Charles as king and emperor from the 
standpoint of the Old Testament ideal. To them he is a 
prophet-priest, a warrior-king. 1 Chosen of God to lead His 
faithful people, he is their weapon and defence, their law- 
giver and judge. 2 Divinely inspired, he uses his marvellous 
gifts to humble the proud, to defend the lowly and to in- 
struct all his people in the ways of truth, of justice and of 
virtue. Before his terrible face, the pagans flee in terror; 
under his overshadowing wing, a Christian people rest in 
peace. In his hand he holds a conquering sword, from his 
mouth he proclaims Catholic doctrine. 3 Christianity follows 
in the wake of his army; he makes the bounds of Christen- 
dom coterminous with those of his kingdom and of his em- 
pire, and by enlarging both of these he secures peace and 
safety for his subjects. To these glorious ends, he has been 
endowed with the government of the Church and of the 
world. 4 Like unto Joshua, he recalls the people to the wor- 
ship of the true God by means of his warnings and of his 
punishments. 5 He is a second David, a mighty prince and 
ruler, decreeing laws for his people, defending the oppressed, 
cherishing the foreigner, doing justice to one and all, and 
enlightening his people with the light of knowledge and of 
truth. 6 His greatest glory, Alcuin says, consists in this, 
that he has most earnestly striven to lead the people en- 

pliavit." Vita Caroli, chap. 31, M. G. H. SS., op. cit., II, p. 460. 
'Propter dignitatem imperil quam avus regno Francorum adiecerat." 
Nithard, IV, chap. 3, ibid., p. 669. Cf. Ermoldi Nigelli, bk. 2 vv. 63, 
64, 67, 68, ibid. f pp. 479, 480. 

(1) Ep. 174. Cf. Epp. 170, 171, 41, 217, 177. 

(2) Ep. 174- Cf. Ep. 242, Jaffe, VI. Cf. Angilbert, Carmen, VI, 
vv. 63-64, 92. 93. M. G. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev., I, pp. 366-369. 

(3) Epp. 41, 171, 217. Ep. 242 (Jaffe). 

(4) Ep. 242, Jaffe, VI, p. 779, 780. 

(5) Admonitio Generate, M. G. H. Leg., Sect. II, I, p. 54. 

(6) "Ita et David olim praecedentis populi rex a Deo electus, et 
Deo dilectus et egregius psalmista Israheli victrici gladio undique gentes 
subiciens, legisque Dei eximius praedicator in populi extitit." Ep. 41. 
Cf. Epp. 171, 198, 309. 


trusted to his care out of the depths of darkness into the 
great light of the true faith. 

When we turn from the Empire itself to the people, we 
find that the picture which Alcuin presents is a very gloomy 
one. "The times are perilous," he writes, "tribulation fol- 
loweth hard upon tribulation ; the people are in poverty ; the 
rulers in distress ; the church beset with anxiety ; its priests 
in dissension; there is nothing stable; all things are in a 
state of unrest." 1 Though he penned this letter to Arno 
in a moment of despondency, it is nevertheless a tolerably 
accurate picture of social conditions in his day. 

The clergy, who were the natural guides of the people, 
were far from being examples of piety and good-living. The 
'true bill' which has been found against them by historians 
is made out not from the recorded instances of the miscon- 
duct of individuals, but is based on the fact of repeated leg- 
islation, as well as on the testimony of the most noteworthy 
contemporaries of that day. In both these sources, the ref- 
erences to the shortcomings of the clergy are clear and in- 
controvertible. Alcuin complains that they are vain, ex- 
travagant in dress, and haughty in bearing, utterly worldly 
in fact ; 2 they listen to plays rather than to the Scriptures ; 
they prefer the 'cithara' to the sweet music of the Psalms. 3 
Too ignorant to write their own sermons, they have recourse 
to homiliaries. 4 They share the worst superstitions of the 
people, believing in auguries and incantations. 5 It is signifi- 
cant that in writing to Eanbald II, Archbishop of York, he 

(1) Ep. 193. 

(2) Epp. 20, 40, 66, 114. Cf. Capitulary, A Sacerdotibus Proposita, 
M. G. H. Leg., Sect. II, I, p. 107. (3) Ep. 124. Cf. Ep. 237. 

(4) Alcuin condones this practice. Cf. "Quid est omelia nisi praedi- 
catio." Ep. 136. 

(5) Alcuin himself admits that the Devil sometimes uses these to 
ensnare those who believe in them. Ep. 17. Cf. "Indiculus Super- 
stitionum ct Paganiorum," M. G. H. Leg., Sect. II, I, p. 223. 


should have admonished him not to let "vain babblings nor 
scurrilous language proceed out of his mouth." 1 

The capitularies, the acts of church councils, and the regu- 
lations of the bishops all contain even more specific charges 
against the clergy. They accuse the latter of wasting their 
time in hunting, hawking and feasting. 2 Worse still, they 
indict them for drunkenness and all manner of lewdness. 
They assert that some clerics sat up until midnight carousing 
with their companions; after which some, drunken and 
gorged, returned to their churches quite unfit to perform the 
daily and nightly services of the Church, while others, 
'straw drunk/ sank down and slept off their debauch in 
the place of revel. 3 Moreover, devoted as they were to 
worldly pleasures, the clergy found their duties irksome. 
They disobeyed their Rule, and neglected their spiritual 
duties, delegating their pastoral work to vicars, who re- 
ceived the spiritual reward which should have been theirs. 
Alcuin declared them to be robbers rather than pastors, 
seeking their own interests rather than those which be of 
God. 4 

Evidently, the wholesale gifts made to the Church during 
the seventh and eighth centuries had had a baleful influence 
upon it. It had become very wealthy. Alcuin himself as 
abbot of Tours ruled over a vast tract of territory. 5 With 
the increase of wealth, the Christian ministry became a 
lucrative profession; simony was rife; 6 the clergy became 
secularized. Bishops and abbots sought to extend their pos- 

(1) Ep. 114. Cf. Ep. 40. 

(2) Capit., 10, Karlman, M. G. H. Leg., Sect. II, I, pp. 24-43. 

(3) M. G. H. Leg., Sect. II, I, pp. 91-99, 107, 440 

(4) "Sint praedicatores, non praedatores." Ep. in. Cf. Vita Al- 
chuini, chap. 6. 

(5) Elipand taunts him with having 20,000 slaves. Ep. 200. 

(6) "Et hoc praecipue intendite, ut simoniaca heresis funditus sub- 
vertatur, quae male dominatur in multis, radicem a iudicibus saeculi 
sumens, ramos usque ad ecclesiasticas tendens personas . . . pene apos- 
tolicam inrepserunt sedem." Ep. 258, p. 416. 


sessions by encroaching on their weaker vassals. Alcuin 
himself complained that the abbot of Limoges was trying to 
exact dues from his monks, over and above those sanctioned 
by custom. 1 Moreover, it appears that the clergy did not 
scruple to use the weapon of excommunication as a means 
of extorting wealth. Charles accused them of buying slaves, 
allodia and other property for themselves and gaining wealth 
by preying upon the ignorance of rich and poor alike. 2 Un- 
der such pastors, it was not strange that the morals of the 
people became vitiated; that the churches were left without 
a roof or used as storehouses for hay and provisions, and 
the altars defiled by birds and dogs. 3 

The evil that men do lives after them, the good is in- 
terred with their bones. Hence, Alcuin as a reformer de- 
votes more attention to the moral obliquity of the clergy 
than to their good qualities. Yet he finds something worthy 
in the ecclesiastics of his day. His friends Arno, Leidrad, 
Paulinus, Theodulph and others come in for their share of 
praise; and he commends the monks of Septimania, of Ire- 
land and of Yarmouth most highly. Of the latter he writes, 
"It is your greatest glory that you have followed your Rule 
consistently, both in dress and in all other points of monastic 
discipline, even as your founder did establish them." 4 

Alcuin's interest lay primarily with the Church and the 
clergy; he says little of the laity, and that little does not 
serve to put them in a favorable light. To begin with, the 
nobles of the court undoubtedly vexed his righteous soul. 
In a letter to his pupil Nathaniel, he warns him against the 
ladies of the court, those "crowned doves who fly about the 

(1) "Dicunt enim; vestri missi mandassent presbiteros nostros; de 
pane modio I et dimidio ; de vino modio I ; de annona ad caballos modia 
quattuor; casios VI; ova C." Ep. 298. 

(2) Capitula missorum, M. G. H. Leg., Sect. II, I, p. 115. 

(3) "Vidimus quoque aliquibus in locis neglegenter altaria Dei 
absque tecto, avium stercoribus vel canum mictu fedata." Ep. 136. 
Cf. Einhard, Vita Caroli, op. cit., chap. 17, M. G. H. SS. II, p. 452. 

(4) />. 284. 


palace windows." 1 Likewise, he enjoins the chaste Gund- 
rada to be an example to the other ladies of the court, to 
the end that they may keep themselves from falling, and so 
remain noble in morals as in birth. 2 Magharius, too, the 
wise counsellor of the king, is warned not to let worldly 
pleasure or carnal delight impede him in his labors. 3 Even 
more pointed is the counsel which he gives to Angilbert, and 
to Pippin, king of Italy. 4 To Charlemagne himself he 
expatiates on the charms of temperance, 5 and on one occa- 
sion, at least, is bold enough to speak of the king's short- 
comings. "Behold our Solomon," says he, "resplendent in 
his diadem and crowned with virtue; imitate his virtues and 
avoid his vices." 6 

The nobles are as venal and as corrupt as they are im- 
moral. Alcuin intimates that some of the officials were not 
above taking bribes, and subverting justice to' their own 
ends. 7 He has this in mind when he admonishes Charles 
to have wise counsellors about him, pious, God-fearing men, 
lovers of truth, not given to covetousness. "Let no one 
tarnish your good name by dishonesty," says he, "for the 
faults of the servants are often ascribed to the Prince." 8 
Likewise, he urges the judges and princes to rule the people 
wisely, and to judge them honestly, being fathers to the 
widow and orphans; for in the justice of the prince lieth the 
happiness of the people. 9 Theodulph of Orleans is even 
more outspoken than Alcuin in this connection. "I have 
seen judges," says he, "who were slow to attend to the 
duties of their office, though prompt enough to take its re- 
wards. Some arrive at the fifth hour, and depart at the 
ninth; others, if the third hour sees them on the bench, 

(i) Ep. 244, P- 392. (2) Ep. 241. Cf. Ep. 309- 

(3) Ep. 33- (4) Epp. 221, 237, 119. 

(S) De Rhetorica, Migne CCI, p. 941. (6) Ep. 309. 

(7) "Neque subiectos tuae potestati indices permittas per sportulas 
vel praemia iudicare." Ep. 188. Cf. Ep. 217. 

(8) Ep. 217. (9) Ep. 18. 


will rise therefrom at the sixth. But if there is a bribe to 
receive, the same men will be in court before the prima" 1 
Moreover, where perchance the officials were not actually 
rapacious or unjust, they were inclined to neglect their 
'placita' for the pleasures of the chase. 2 No doubt Charles' 
missi had a strenuous time in enforcing justice throughout 
the Prankish realm. And it would appear that the more 
conscientiously they fulfilled their duties, the more un- 
popular they became. 3 

Yet Alcuin finds something to praise in the laity of his 
day. There are some honorable, upright men among them, 
some virtuous women; first and foremost among the latter 
is the 'noblest of the noble,' the fair Gundrada. She it 
was who, amid the license of the court, had attained to the 
enviable reputation of being chaste as no other lady of the 
day. 4 Among the men are Eric, Duke of Friuli, Gerald of 
Bavaria, and Megenfrid the Treasurer, all of whom Alcuin 
finds it in his heart to praise most warmly. Naturally, 
however, it is his master, Charles the Great, who comes in 
for most of his attention and adulation. As the life-long 
friend and trusted counsellor of the king, he had ample 
opportunity to observe his character, and so well did he do 
so that Charlemagne stands forth from his pages in all 
his majesty, a sublime figure, commanding the admiration 
of the ages. There is a significant lack of legend and of 
myth in his portrayal. It is a living being that he depicts, 
a man with great faults notwithstanding his splendid vir- 
tues As we see him through the medium of Alcuin, 
he is a mighty man of war, tireless of energy, 

(1) Theodulph, Versus Contra Indices, vv, 391-396, M. G. H. Poet. 
Lat. Med. Aev., op. cit., I, p. 493, et seq. 

(2) "Volumus atque jubemus ut comites nostri propter venationem 
et alia ioca placita sua non dimittant nee ea minuta faciant" Capitula 
de Causis Diversis, M. G. H. Leg., Sect. II, I, p. 135. 

(3) Capitula a missis dominicis ad comites directa, chap. 5, ibid., I, 
p. 184. 

(4) Ep. 309- 


quick of thought, prompt to act; in fact, a born leader of 
men with a genius for organization and command. Withal, 
there is much of the barbarian about him; he is in- 
describably fierce towards his foes, ruthless and wantonly 
cruel at times. On several occasions, Alcuin finds it neces- 
sary to plead with him to be merciful. "Be not forgetful," 
says he, "of the captives which Providence granted thee in 
thy victory over the Avars; if it be possible, spare some 
of them." 1 Again, he suggests that his lord the king should 
vary the clash of arms and the strident peal of the horn, 
with the softer notes of music, to the end that the fierce 
souls of the warriors might be softened. 2 

While not blind to the faults of his great master, Alcuin, 
like the rest of his contemporaries, is dazzled by his genius. 
At times he seems to be under a spell, and then he is quite 
as extravagant as other contemporaries, whose judgment 
is less discriminating than his. In such a mood he pic- 
tures Charles as a great Christian emperor, whose piety 
shines forth as bright as the rays of the sun. 3 The em- 
bodiment of virtue himself, he incites all classes of his 
people to deeds of virtue; to the soldiers he teaches skill 
in the use of arms, inspiring them with constancy and 
courage; the clergy and the people he enjoins to obey 
in all humility; his counsellors and judges he leads in the 
path of wisdom and justice. 4 Thus does he rule his people, 
decreeing laws, defending the oppressed, cherishing the 
foreigner, and enlightening his people with truth and 
knowledge. 5 "Happy the people," says Alcuin, "over whom 
Providence has placed so wise and so pious a ruler, who 

(i) Ep. 118. (2) Ep. 149. 

(3) Ep. 242 (Jane). Cf. Angilbert, Carmen, VI, vv, 12-15, M. G. 
H. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev., op cit., I, p. 366. Theodulph, Carmen, 35, 36, 
ibid, pp. 526-528. 

(4) Epp. 177, 136. Cf. Theodulph, Ep. 24, M. G. H. Epistolarum, 
IV, p. 534. Also Paulinus Aquila, Ep. 43. Migne, XCIX, pp. 508-509. 

(5) Epp. 229, 177. Cf. Einhard, Vita, op. cit., chap. 21, M. G. H. 
SS. II, p. 455- 


excelleth all, not alone in majesty and power, but in wis- 
dom and religious zeal as well." 1 These expressions are 
repeated, until one feels that Alcuin had some merit as a 
courtier as well as a scholar. 

With immorality and license prevailing among the 
nobility, we need not look for enlightenment or religious 
zeal among the lower classes in Frankland. The people 
gave free reign to their passions, and imitated the vices 
of the nobility. They were especially given to drunken- 
ness, and prone to deeds of violence and bloodshed. 2 Im- 
poverished by the continual wars of Charles' reign, op- 
pressed by their superiors, lay and ecclesiastical, too brutal 
to command respect, too ignorant and too helpless to effect 
any amelioration of their condition, their lot was a hard 
one. They were being reduced to beggary and even to 
slavery, as Charles himself admits. "If a poor man," says 
he, "will not give up his property to a bishop, abbot or count, 
these make some excuse for getting him into trouble with 
the courts, or they order him continually on military 
service until the man surrenders or sells his property." 3 
The noblest spirits of the time were alive to the fearful 
degradation of the people; nor did they fail to express their 
pity. Nevertheless, there was a good deal of contempt 
mingled with their sympathy. Thus Alcuin, while enjoin- 
ing upon the lords the necessity of being just and merciful 
towards the people, felt that the latter ought to obey a just 
ruler with thankful hearts. Alcuin expressly repudiated 
the maxim, 'Vox populi, vox Dei,' maintaining that the 
voice of the people was the voice of madmen. 4 

Bad as were the social conditions in Frankland, those 
in England were even worse. Alcuin's account is one long 

(i) Epp. 171, 229, 121. (2) Epp. 246, 249, 119, 18, 121, 58, 172, 150. 

(3) De Rebus Exercitalibus, M. G. H. Leg., Sect. II, I, p. 165. 

(4) "Nee audiendi, qui solent dicere ; vox populi, vox Dei. Cum 
tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit." Ep. 132. 


chronicle of invasion from without, of schism and disorder 
from within. He cries out in despair over the ruin of the 
monasteries, over the decline of learning, over the social 
and political disorder rampant everywhere. "Lo," he says, 
"a pagan people lay waste our shores, pillaging and plunder- 
ing at will; the princes and people are rent with dissen- 
sions ; while learning perishes in our midst." 1 With touch- 
ing sorrow Alcuin depicts the desecration of the churches. 
"Alas," says he, "the Church of St. Cuthbert, so honored 
by all the people of Britain, hath been given over wholly to 
the pagans for plunder; despoiled of its ornaments, bereft 
of its glories, it has been spattered with the blood of its 
priests. Verily, if the Holy St. Cuthbert cannot defend 
his own in that place where religion was first implanted 
in our race, verily there remaineth naught for us to do save 
to cry out, 'Spare, O Lord, spare thy people, and give not 
thine inheritance unto the heathen, lest they say, where 
is the Christians' God?'" 2 

The internal dissensions among the princes and people 
of England were even more baleful in their influence than 
the devastations of the Norsemen. The political unrest, 
which had characterized the Anglo-Saxons before and since 
their advent into Britain, was much in evidence in Alcuin's 
day. According to his testimony, the English kingdoms 
had been most unhappy as to the princes who had been 
chosen to rule over them. Everywhere they had declined 
in those qualities which had been wont to make them a 
blessing to their people and a terror to the enemy. 3 They 
were tyrants, not rulers; for they plundered their people 
shamelessly. 4 The whole land was a prey to intestine 
strife; rival claimants to the throne murdered and pillaged, 
regardless of their subjects; 5 nobles warred on nobles, and 

(i) Ep. 129. (2) Ep. 16. Cf. Ep. 20. 

(3) Ep. 130. (4) Epp. 16, 9, 109, US- (5) Epp. 109, 127, 128, 122. 


oppressed the people; everywhere except in Mercia 1 was 
black ruin, anarchy and disintegration. 

The clergy of England were almost as bad as the 
nobility. There was no sympathy, no co-operation between 
e higher ecclesiastics; there was coldness between the 
chbishops of York and of Canterbury; 2 while between the 
tter and the lately established archbishopric of Lichfield, 3 
ere was actual strife. Again, the higher clergy were 
dined to take a hand in the political disturbances of the 
y. Thus the archbishop of York interfered in the dis- 
nsions of Northumbria with little credit to himself, and 
s profit to the church. 4 The bad example set by the 
bility, lay and ecclesiastical, had a most deleterious effect 
n the lower clergy and the common people. "If," says 
cuin, "there proceeds from the nobility and the clergy, 
e fountains of faith and truth, naught but turmoil and 
infidelity, we can expect but little from the people." 5 The 
clerics are distinguished from the laymen by their tonsure 
alone; in all things else they are reprehensible as the laity 
themselves, as vain in dress, as haughty in bearing, as 
uch given to feasting, drinking and such like things. 6 
e regular clergy are as bad as the secular; they live in 
luxury, and devote themselves to worldly enjoyments, being 
more like laymen than monks; they neglect their Rule, es- 
pecially that part intended for their edification; as they sit 
at meat, they prefer to listen to plays instead of having 
one of their number read from the Scriptures or the 

(1) Even Offa, king of Mercia, does not escape Alcuin's censure. 

Epp. 122, 123. 

(2) Epp. 127, 128. 

(3) Eventually the archbishopric of Lichfield was suppressed. 
Epp. 128, 255. 

(4) Ep. 232. (5) Ep. 122. 

(6) "Quae magna ex parte diu corrupta viluit et pene laicorum 
vanitate coaequata est, ita ut tonsura tantummodo discreta videtur; 
ceterum moribus multa ex parte consimilis, ceu in yestimentorum vani- 
tate et arrogantia et conviviorum superfluitate et aliis rebus." Ep. 230. 
Cf. Ep. 129. 





Fathers, as their Rule commands. 1 As might be expected, 
the people are much harmed by such conduct; they follow 
not in the footsteps of their fathers; neither in dress nor 
in good living do they pattern themselves after their worthy 
ancestors; but in their mad folly, they seek out some new 
thing as unprofitable to themselves as it is displeasing to 
God. 2 "A time of great tribulation has come over our 
land" wails he., "the faith is losing ground; God's truth is 
not spoken, malice and arrogance everywhere abound to 
the misery of the people. The sacred places are devastated 
by the heathen, the altars desecrated by perjury, the mon- 
astries defiled by adultery, and the soil of England stained 
by the blood of its princes. Verily/ concludes Alcuin, 'we 
are a race of evil-doers, a people laden with iniquity, a 
sinful nation, whom God will punish as m the olden time, 
unless we deserve well of Him by earnest prayer, stead- 
fast faith and upright living." 3 

Against the degradation of society which we have just 
described, the church effected a partial remedy through 
monasticism. The latter had worked silently for at least 
a century, before its influence showed itself on the common 
life of the clergy in the tangible form of a canonical rule. 
This was one of the chief results of the great ecclesiastical 
reformation of the Carolingian Age, brought about by the 
co-operation of church and state. 4 The immediate purpose 
subserved by the rule was that of discipline; at the same 
time it made for education and edification, inasmuch as 

(i) Ep. 124, p. 183. (2) Ep. 122, p. 179. 

(3) Epp. 122, 20, 17, 22. 

(4) The first mention of a canonical rule was in the decree of the 
Council of Vernon in 755 M. G. H. Leg., Sect. II, I, p. 36. A little 
later Chrodegang of Metz drew up his famous rule, and in 802 a 
capitulary of Charles required his priests to live according to the canons 
under the supervision of a bishop, sleeping in a common dormitory, 
eating at a common refectory, and living according to a common rule. 
Capitulare Missorum Generate, chaps. 21, 22, M. G. H. Leg., Sect. II, 
I, PP. 95-96. 


the hours of the day and night were apportioned to definite 
occupations. These, as Alcuin intimates, were chiefly 
reading and praying. 1 Thus, by means of the canonical 
rule, the prevalent ignorance of the clergy was lessened, 
learning became more and more a necessary ingredient of 
their lives. Furthermore, such great bishops as Arno, 
Theodulph, Leidrad, and others, arose to lend their whole- 
souled support to Charles' noble effort to enlighten his 

(i) Ep. 114. 



DURING the seventh and the early part of the eight cen- 
turies, the intellectual life of Frankland had reached a very 
low ebb. The disorders incident to the Prankish invasion, 
and the anarchy of the Merovingian rule later on, had 
forced learning to take refuge in the church and in the 
monastery. These asylums of learning became so demor- 
alized that those traditions, which had found their way 
from the ancient Gallic schools into those of the Franks 
were almost completely lost; of philosophy and literature 
there was nothing; the Latin language was being forgotten, 
and when spoken it was without rule or grammar. Worse 
still, the voice of the teacher was all but silent in the city 
and in the monastery; idleness and vice had followed hard 
upon the decline of learning, until monk and priest who 
ought to have been the intelligent teachers of their people, 
had degenerated so far as to lose well-nigh even the instinct 
for moral life, 1 

Conditions would probably have been even worse had 
not Charles Martel introduced some semblance of order and 
quiet into society, not alone by his defeat of the Saxons 
and Saracens, but also by his determined suppression of 
the Prankish nobles and bishops. By freeing Frankland 

(i) Haureau, B., Histoire de la Philosophie Scolastique, part I, p. 
3, 6-7; cf. Mullinger, J. B. Schools of Charles the Great and the Restora- 
tion of Education in the Ninth Century, pp. 37-39: Ebert Ad. Allge- 
meine Geschichte der Literatur des Mittelalters in Abendlande, Vol. II, 
pp. 3-11. 


1 V 



from dangers without and from dissensions within, by 
teaching the bishops and abbots that they must do some- 
thing more than hunt, drink and fight, 1 he prepared the way 
for Alcuin and Charles, and made possible that intel- 
lectual revival which their efforts inaugurated. 2 Nor were 
evidences of improvement lacking even before their day. 
Here and there some scholar, like Abbot Gregory of 
Utrecht, had tried more or less successfully to redeem the 
liaracter of his school, and to revive learning in his juris- 
iction. At Metz, Chrodegang had drawn up his famous 
ule and inculcated the urgent duty of educating the young, 
t St. Gall, the monk Winidhar had begun to transcribe 
manuscripts and so laid the foundations of the noble library 
there. 3 Thus the Prankish people were ripe for a literary 
revival; realizing their needs they had become receptive, 
and already they possessed eager students, both Anglo- 
axon and Prankish, who would give their hearty sympathy 
nd co-operation to him who would promote and organize 
learning. Such a person was Charles the Great. 

It was the aim of Charles to spread secular and ecclesias- 
ical learning among his people, to the end that religion 
might be promoted, their morals reformed, and their whole 
intellectual life deepened. Manifestly, his work had to be- 
in with the clergy, for through them, and them alone, 
the only teachers of the day 4 , could he hope to advance 

(1) Cf. Capitulary of Karlmann, dated April 2ist, 742, cap. 2, M. 
G. H. Leg.. Sect. II, I, p. 25. 

(2) Haureau, op. cit., part I, pp. 6-7. Cf. Roger, L'Enseignement 
des Lettres classiques d'Ausone a Alcuin, pp. 428-9; Hauck, II, op. cit., 
pp. 168-71 ; Gaskoin, Alcuin, pp. 171-2; West, Alcuin, p. 41. 

(3) HaUck, op. cit. II, pp. 168-171; Roger, op. cit., pp. 428-429; 
Gaskoin, op. 'cit., 17.?. F. A. Specht, Geschichte des Unterrichtswesens 
in Deutschland bis zur Mitte des dreizehnten Jahrhundert, pp. 10-12, 

(4) That Charles found much to amend in the lives of his clergy 
is evident from capitulary 19, caps. 15 & 16: "Sacerdotes, qui rite non 
sapiunt adimplere ministerium suum nee discere iuxta praeceptum 
. . . . quia ignorantes legem Dei earn aliis annuntiare et praedicare 
non possunt." M. G. H. Leg. I, p. 46. 


the civilization of his people. Accordingly, he exhorted 
the clergy to the study of the Scriptures and of the Liberal 
Arts, which they had so long neglected. 1 "It is our wish," 
says he, "that you may be what it behooves the soldiers 
of Christ to be, religious in heart, learned in discourse, pure 
, in act, so that all that approach your house in order to in- 
voke the Divine Master, or to behold the excellence of re- 
ligious life, may be edified in seeing you and instructed by 
hearing your discourse and chant." 1 Likewise, the whole 
people were to devote themselves to learning, laymen were 
to send their sons to study 'letters,' and the youths, work- 
ing with all diligence, were to remain in school until they 
had been instructed in learning. 8 

Fortunately for the furtherance of his educational policy, 
Charles could count on the support of such able men as 
Alcuin, Paulinus of Aquila, Leidrad of Lyons, and others. 
Alcuin set the seal of his enthusiastic approval upon the 
plans of Charles for the education of his people. In a letter 

fto the latter, he praised him for his zeal in pursuing the 
study of the stars, and added : "If only a great many would 
imitate your splendid zeal for such studies, mayhap a new 
ft and even more excellent Athens might arise in Frankland, 
for this our Athens, having Christ the Lord for its master, 
{ would surpass all the wisdom of the studies of the 
Academy."* Evidently Alcuin had high hopes of accom- 
plishing great things for the enlightenment of Frankland. 

The tasks which awaited Alcuin and his royal master 
were many and varied. First, the Palace School was to be 
reorganized, and the king's own energetic attempts at self- 
education superintended; there were the parish, monastic 
and cathedral schools to be established or improved, and a 

(1) "Oblitteratam pene maiorum nostrorum desidia reparare vigil- 
ianti studio litterarum." M. G. H. Leg. Sect. II, I, p. 80. 

(2) Ibid., Vol. I., p. 79. (3) Admonitio Generalis, ibid., I, p. 60. 
(4) Ep. 170. 


clergy sufficiently learned and worthy to administer the sac- 
raments was to be created. Finally, it was necessary to 
revise the liturgy so as to make it conform to the Roman 
use, and it was equally urgent to amend the biblical and 
other manuscripts, which were in a most deplorable condi- 
tion owing to the ignorance of the Merovingian tran- 

Their task was a gigantic one. The schools were few 
in number and woefully defective, while teachers were 
very hard to procure. 1 Then, too, books were scarce, in- 
asmuch as many had been lost or destroyed during the 
Merovingian period. 2 In one of his letters to Charles, 
Alcuin asked permission to send some of his pupils from 
Tours to obtain some of the books he had left at York, 
in order that the rich fruits of learning might be found 
not only in "the gardens there, but also by the pleasant 
waters of the Loire." 3 And if the rich abbey of St. Mar- 
tin's lacked for books, the abbey supervised by Alcuin him- 
self, and doubtless enriched by his own books, as well as 
by copies of those in use at the Palace School, one can 
readily imagine that there must have been scanty if any 
traces of a library in the majority of the monasteries else- 
where. Moreover, many of the books were quite untrust- 
worthy, for the manuscripts had been carelessly copied, and 
often mutilated, owing to the gross ignorance of the tran- 
scribers. Furthermore, the conditions prevailing at that 
time increased the difficulties of the mediaeval scholar. The 
roads were well-nigh impassable; the seas swarmed with 

(1) "Scholam in eodem coenobio esse instituit quoniam pmnes pene 
ignaros literarum invenit . . . optimisque cantilenae sonis, quantum 
temporis ordo sinebat, edocuit." Gesta Abbatum Fontanellensium a. 
787 M. G. H. SS. II, p. 292. 

(2) "Sed ex parte desunt mihi, servulo vestro, exquisitiores erudi- 
tionis scolasticae libelli, quos habui in patria per bonam et devotissimam 
magistri mei industriam vel etiam mei ipsius qualemcumque sudorem." 
Ep. 121. Cf. Ep. 80. 

(3) Ep. 121. 


pirates, and the land was a prey to chronic warfare. 1 Hence 
communication was uncertain and messengers were not to 
be relied upon. 2 On more than one occasion Alcuin com- 
plained rather bitterly of these untoward circumstances. In 
a letter to Sigulfus, he tells us : "Our memory is fickle at 
times. We forget what we ought to retain, especially 
when we are distracted by worldly affairs, and inasmuch as 
we cannot carry our books with us because of their weight, 
we must abbreviate at times in order that the precious pearl 
of wisdom be light enough for the weary traveller to bear 
it with him for his refreshment." 3 

Alcuin gives us elsewhere an even more striking picture 
of the difficulties and limitations of scholars in his day. In 
his poem De Sanctis Eboracensis Ecclesiae, he describes for 
us the library of the Cathedral School at York. The latter, 
which Alcuin himself had helped to collect, though one of 
the largest in its day, seems pitifully small and inadequate 
to modern eyes. It is hardly likely that it comprised more 
than one or two hundred books ; and yet these contain prac- 
tically all of the learning of that time. It is significant that 
Alcuin begins his description of the library by enumerat- 
ing the Church Fathers to be found there. At the head 
of the list are Jerome, Hilary, Ambrose and Augustine, 
after whom come Athanasius, Orosius, Gregory., Leo and 
Basil. Fulgentius, Cassiodorus, Chrysostom and John 4 com- 
plete the list. Then follow the teachers, philosophers, his- 
torians, rhetoricians : these are Aldhelm, Bede, Victorinus, 
Boethius, Pompeius and Pliny, together with the 'subtle 

(1) Epp. 6, 7, 16, 20, 21, 22, 82, 109. 

(2) "Sed multum meae nocet devotioni infidelitas accipientium lit- 
teras meas vobis dirigendas." Ep. 254. Cf. Epp. 253, 167, 265, 28. 

(3) "Et quia pondera librorum nobiscum portari nequeunt, ideo 
aliquoties brevitati studendum est, ut levi sit pondere pretiosa sapientiae 
margareta ; et habeat fessus ex itinere viator, quo se recreat ; licet ex 
pondere portantis manus non gravetur." Ep. 80. 

(4) Probably Jonh of Damascus. Cf. Harnack, V, p. 289. 


Aristotle' and the 'mighty rhetorician Tullius.' 1 The 
classics mentioned by Alcuin are Vergil, Statius and Lucan ; 
they appear at the end of a very considerable list of Chris- 
tian poets. It is characteristic of Alcuin and of his age 
that he sees nothing incongruous in associating Vergil with 
such poets as Sedulius, Juvencus, Alcimus, Clement, Pros- 
per, Paulinus, Arator, Fortunatus and Lactantius. A place 
of honor is given to the indispensable grammarians, and 
accordingly the names of Probus, Focas, Donatus, Priscian, 
Servius, Eutycus, Pompeius, Comminianus, close the list of 
authors. Neither Isidore of Seville nor Martianus Capella 
is mentioned, though it is likely that the works of both of 
these were in the library among the 'many other' books 
which Alcuin said were to be found there. 2 

In matters of learning and education, Alcuin adopted 
the same safe and conservative attitude that he had pur- 
sued in questions of faith and of religious practice. He 
and his contemporaries made learning the handmaid of 
theology; they taught those things only which would be 
of advantage to religion and to mother church. 3 Their 
curriculum began and ended with the studies of the Scrip- 
tures : scriptural interpretation in its three- fold sense, his- 
torical, moral and allegorical, was the keystone of their 
educational structure. 4 This, Alcuin considered to be the 
knowledge of most worth; 5 though he by no means de- 
spised secular learning. 6 

If the study of the " Scriptures is the keystone, the Seven 

(1) "Acer Aristoteles, rhetor quoquo Tullius ingens." Versus De 
Sanct. Eborac. Eccl. op. cit., V. 1549. 

(2) Versus De Sanct. Eborac. Eccl. op. cit., vv. I535-I557- 

(3) "Quaecunque enim a magistris ad utilitatem sanctarum ecclesi- 
arum Dei didici." Ep. 24. 

(4) Vita Alchuini, op. cit., cap. 2; Admonitio Generalts, cap. 82, 
M. G. H. Leg. Sect. II, I, p. 161 : Rabanus Maurus, De Clericor. Instit. 
Ill, 2 Migne 107, p. 379. Willibaldi, Vita S. Bonifatii, cap. 2: Jaffe, 
op. cit. Ill, p. 433-35- 

(5) Epp. 309, 280. (6) Epp. 280, 121. 



Liberal Arts are the supports of his whole educational sys- 
tem. They are the 'Seven columns which support the dome 
of wisdom/ the 'seven grades of wisdom' leading up to its 
* summit, which is evangelical perfection. 1 They are th< 
'seven water-pots/ which have been kept till now to furnish 
forth the wine that maketh glad the heart of man. 2 As th< 
sole means of arriving at perfect knowledge, the youths 
ought to study them until 'maturer age and riper judg- 
ment' have fitted them for the study of the Scriptures/ 
"On these," says Alcuin, in urging his pupils to study th< 
Liberal Arts, "on these, philosophers have bent theii 
energy ; through these, consuls and kings have become illus 
trious; through these, the venerable Fathers of the churcl 
have defended the faith and discomfited the heretic."* 
1 However, the Seven Liberal Arts of themselves appeal 
to have had little attraction for the scholars of Alcuin's day ; 
theirs was a relative value, measured by their utility to th( 
church. 5 Latin grammar was studied as the key to th( 
reading and understanding of the Scriptures; metre, 
rhetoric and dialectic gave the future cleric skill in speed 
or debate, or in the practical treatment of religious topics; 
music was of value in connection with the liturgy; aritl 
metic and astronomy were largely used to determine the 
date of Easter; while geometry aided the church architect/ 
Under such circumstances, there could be but little under- 
standing or appreciation of the classical spirit. The 

(1) Ep. 34. Cf. 280, and Alcuin's Grammatica, Migne CI, p. 853. 

(2) Ep. 309- 

(3) Grammatica, Migne CI, p. 854. 

(4) Grammatica, Migne 101, p. 854. 

(5) De Litteris Colendis, M. G. H. Leg. Sect. II, I, p. 79: Gram- 
matica, Migne 101, p. 853: Rabanus Maurus, De Clericorum, Instit 
book III, cap. i6-Migne CVII, p. 392. Norden, Die Antike Kunstropsa 
vom 6ten Jahrhundert vor Christo bis in die Zeit der Renaissance, Vol. 
II, p. 680. 

(6) Bursian, Geschichte der Classischen Philologie in Deutschland, 
Vol. I, pp. 24-25. 


medieval churchmen regarded the classics merely as an 
indispensable aid for the study of the Scriptures. 1 The 
early mediaeval writers had used the classics wherever they 
felt that these would avail Christianity, or serve to embel- 
lish their own style. 2 But they had felt impelled to apolo- 
gize for those Vergilian phrases which adorned their pages. 
They held that amid the noxious superstitions of the an- 
cients there was much which would serve the interests of 
truth and of Christianity : they likened themselves to the 
Israelites who carried off the gold and silver ornaments of 
the Egyptians. 3 This notion of 'despoiling the Egyptians' 
still obtained of course in Alcuin's day, and far beyond. In 
a letter to Arno, Alcuin admonished him to wash "the 
gold" of the classics "free from all dross," so that it might 
be purified and rendered acceptable to God and his glorious 
Church. Then would the pagan poems, purged from all 
filth, be like "a rose bred among thorns, exquisite in frag , 
ranee, in beauty incomparable." 4 Although Augustine and 
others of the fathers had thus assumed an apologetic atti- 
tude towards the classics, there had been a growing ten- 
dency on the part of some churchmen to regard the study 
of the classics as a species of idolatry. Yet, try as they 
would, the Christian fathers could not get along without 
them at any time during the Middle Ages : the classics 
were as necessary to the study of the Liberal Arts as the 
latter were for theology. They were particularly essential 
for grammar and rhetoric, as Alcuin admitted upon one 
occasion when, though roundly denouncing Vergil as a de- 

(1) Cassiodorii, "De Instit. Divin. Utter." c. 28, Migne LXX, pp. 
1141-43. De Litteris Colendis, M. G. H. Leg. Sect. II, I, p. 79- 

(2) Comparetti, Virgil in the Middle Ages, p. 65. 

(3) Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana, II, cap. 4O-Migne XXXIV, 
p. 63. 

(4) "Nam rosa, inter spinas nata miri odoris et colon's incon- 
parabilis gratiam habere dinoscitur." Ep. 207, p. 345. 


reiver, he conceded that in matters of grammar he was an 
authority not to be contemned. 1 

As might be expected, the attitude of Alcuin towards 
the classics was a reflex of that of his predecessors. He 
exhibited the earlier apologetic but enthusiastic tone of the 
fathers, together with their later attitude of hostility. Like 
Augustine, Jerome, and many others, he found the classics 
necessary. Like them, too, he doubts somewhat the pro- 
priety of using them, and is careful at times to explain 
his grounds for so doing. On the other hand, he is even 
more outspoken in his opposition to the classics than Ter- 
tullian himself. As a boy he had loved the poems of Vergil 
better than the Psalms. 2 With riper age and experience, 
however, he adopted a more conservative attitude towards 
the latter, and professed to despise what he had formerly 
admired. As he neared the close of his life, he became 
somewhat narrower in his views and less charitable in 
spirit. That same man/ says his biographer, 'who in his 
youth had read the lives of Vergil along with the Holy 
Writ, and the books of the philosophers, in his old age 
/"would not allow his monks of Tours to follow the example 
which he had set at York.' 3 "Are not the divine poets suffi- 
cient for you," says Alcuin, "or must you pollute your- 
selves with the smooth flowing phrases of Vergilian 
speech?" 4 Certain passages in Alcuin's correspondence 
also, appear to bear eloquent testimony to a continued 
acerbity against the classics. Thus he reproached his friend, 
Ricbodus, Archbishop of Treves, because of his fondness 

(1) "Vergilius haud contempnendae auctoritatis falsator," Ep. 136. 
Cf. Carmen 32, Poet. Lat. Med. Aev. I, p. 250. 

(2) Vita Alchuini, cap. i. 

(3) "Legerat isdem vir Domini libros iuvenis antiquorum philoso- 
phorum Virgilique mendacia, quae nolebat iam ipse nee audire neque 
discipulos suos legere," Vita Alchuini, cap. 10. Cf. "Haec in Vir- 
giliacis non invenietur mendaciis, sed in euangelica affluenter rep- 
perietur veritate." Ep. 309, p. 475. Cf. Ep. 136. (4) Vita Alchuini, op 
cit., cap. 10. 


for Vergil. "Lo, a whole year has passed," he writes, 
"and I have had no letter from you. Ah, if only my name 
were Vergil, then wouldst thou never forget me, but have 
my face ever before thee; then should I be 'felix nimium, 
quo non felicior ullus.' And," he concludes, "would that 
the four Gospels rather than the twelve ^JEneids rilled your 
heart." 1 

However, at the very time that he was inveighing most 
fiercely against the classics in general and Vergil in par- 
ticular, he was using the latter to illustrate a fact or point 
a moral. When King Charles sought to inveigle him into 
coming to the court, in order to debate with some scholars 
there upon certain astronomical questions, he declined. His 
refusal is couched in Vergilian phrase. "As the ass is 
whipped for his sluggishness, 2 so perhaps I, too, have felt 
not undeservedly the lash of the palace youths. The aged 
Entellus 3 has long laid aside the cestus and left it for 
others in the flower of youth. Some of these would strike 
the old man a mighty blow, so that a mist would come be- 
fore his eyes and his blood scarce warm again around his 
heart. 4 Of what avail would the feeble old Flaccus be amid 
the clash of arms? What can the timid hare do against 
the wild boars, or the lamb avail against the lions?" 
"Verily," concludes Alcuin, in declining the king's invita- 
tion, "as Vergil wrote to Augustus, so do I to you. Tu 
sectaris apros, ego retia servo.' " 5 Alcum's letters abound 
in such references to Vergil. 6 In fact they outnumber three 
to one the references to all other authors. To be precise, 
there are twenty-eight references to the classics in the cor- 

(1) Ep. 13, P. 39- 

(2) Ep. 145. Cf. Verg. Georg. I, 273. 

(3) Verg. lEn. V, 437 et seq. (4) Verg. Georg. II, 484. 

(5) Eel III, 75, (in Ep. 145)- 

(6) Cf. Epp. 178, 215, 145, 175, 164, 162, 13. 


respondence of Alcuin. Seven of these are to Horace, Ovid, 
Terence and Pliny; 1 whereas twenty-one are to Vergil. 2 

Thus, Alcuin, like his predecessors, is inconsistent; he 
abuses the classics roundly, but uses them upon occasion, 
and with some effect. The style of Alcuin, like that of most 
of the literary coterie which gathered at Charles' court, is 
grammatically correct, and sometimes elegant. To be sure, 
, it lacks spontaneity and tends to mere prettiness of expres- 
sion, which at times degenerates to bombast. Thus, one of 
his letters to Theodulph outdoes Lyly's Euphues in the 
wealth of its rhetorical figures and fantastic conceits. He 
addresses Theodulph as the 'father of the vineyards/ as the 
custodian of the 'wine-cellars/ wherein has been kept until 
now the 'good old wine' to be broached in these latter days. 
"Now by the mercies of God," says he, "a second David 
is the ruler of a better people, and under him a nobler Zabdi 
is set over the cellars ; for the King hath set his love upon 
him, and brought him into the wine-cellars, 3 that the 
scholars may there wreathe him with flowers and comfort 
him with the flagons 4 of that wine which maketh glad the 
heart of man." 5 It was passages such as these which led 
Theodulph and other contemporaries to give Alcuin the 
palm over all the other writers of the day. 6 

Occasionally we catch glimpses of an imagination try- 
ing to soar above the limitations imposed on it by ecclesias- 

(1) There are two references to Horace, three to Ovid, one each to 
Terence and Pliny. 

(2) Three references are to the Georgics, seven to the ^Eneid, 
eleven to the Eclogues. In regard to Alcuin's attitude towards the 
classics, cf. O. F. Long, "Lectures in Honor of Basil L. Gildersleeve," 
PP- 377-86; Comparetti, "Virgil in the Middle Ages," translated 
by E. F. M. Benecke. (3) Ep. 192. (4) Solomon's Song, II, 5. 

(5) Psalm civ, 15. The above translation is taken from West's 
"Alcuin," p. 79. 

(6) "Sit praesto et Flaccus, nostrorum gloria vatum, 

Qui potis est lyrico multa boare pede. 
Quique sophista potens est, quique poeta melodus 
Quique potens sensu, quique potens opere est." Carmen, 25, 
M. G. H. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev. I, p. 486. 


tical traditions. Here and there we light upon passages of 
poetic charm. In carmen 23, for example, he paints a 
picture which glows for us with something of the beauty 
and warmth of nature. It may be freely translated thus : 
"Beloved cell, sweet habitation mine, girt around with 

whispering trees, and all hidden by the foliage green, be- 

>re thee stretch the meadows, blooming with fragrant 
)wers and life-giving herbs; babbling at thy door, the 
imlet meanders by, on whose banks, all embowered in 

lowers, the fisher loves to sit and tend his net. The lily 
pale, the blushing rose, mingle their odors with the sweet- 
smelling fruit hanging in rich profusion from thy orchard 
trees, while, all around, the feathery denizens of the wood 
swell out their matin song in praise of their Creator." 1 

Lgain, there is something of the spirit of eternal youth 
in the sprightly lines where he describes himself as "rub- 
bing the sleep of night from his eyes, and leaping from his 
couch as soon as the ruddy charioteer of dawn suffuses the 
liquid deep with the new light of day, and then running 
straightway into the fields of the ancients to pluck their 
flowers of correct speech and scatter them in sport before 
his boys." 2 Then, too, there are passages, such as his car- 
men 25 on Rome, and his farewell epistle to Charles, where 
something of the dignity of his theme imparts itself to 
his lines ; 3 and his profound grief at the death of his old 

(i) "O mea cella, mihi habitatio dulcis, amata. . . . 

Undique te cingit ramis resonantibus arbos, 
Silvula florigeris semper onusta comis 
Prata salutiferis florebunt omnia et herbis, 

Flumina te cingunt florentibus undique ripis, 
Retia piscator qua sua tendit ovans." Carmen, 23, M. G. H. 
Poet. Lat. Med. Aev. I, p. 243. 

(2) "Splendida dum rutilat roseis Aurora quadrigis, 
Perfundens pelagus luce nova liquidum," et seq. Carmen, 42, 

M. G. H. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev. I, p. 253, translation by West, p. 47. 

(3) Carmen, 25, M. G. H. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev. I, p. 245. 


master, Elbert, which he so touchingly expresses in his 
verses on York, strikes a chord which finds an answering 
echo in our own hearts. And certainly much may be for- 
given one who could write those beautiful lines of the car- 
men In Dormiturio: "May he who stillest the roaring 
winds and raging seas, the God of Israel, who hath never 
slept throughout the ages, may He who apportions the day 
for work, the night for rest, grant to the weary brethren 
sweet refreshing sleep, and dispel with omnipotent hand 
the fears which disturb their slumbers." 1 There is some- 
thing here of the serenity, the restfulness and the charm 
of Goethe's immortal poem "Ein Gleiches." 2 
f" Alcuin is, however, no stylist and no great scholar. His 
forte lay in teaching. He found his opportunity at the 
cathedral school at York, the palace school at Aachen, and 
the monastic school at Tours, in each of which he taught 
the Seven Liberal Arts. Naturally, he paid most atten- 
tion to grammar, the first and most important, the sine qua 
non of the other six arts. 3 He himself wrote a Grammatics, 
based in the main on the earlier grammars of Donatus and 
Priscian. The treatise is in the form of a dialogue; first, 
there is an explanation by the teacher, which is followed 
by questions and answers exchanged between the pupils or 
between the master and pupils. The book itself is divided 
into two parts; in the first part is discussed the end and 
method of education. According to Alcuin, the only thing 
worth while is wisdom or 'philosophia,' "the chief adorn- 
ment of the soul." "And," says he, "it will not be hard 
to point out to you the path of wisdom, if only you will 

(1) Carmen, 96, M. G. H. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev. I, p. 321. 

(2) "Ueber alien Gifpelen, ist Ruh," et seq., in Select Poems of 
Goethe, Ed. of Sonnenschein, p. 6. 

(3) "Haec et origo et fundatnentum est artium liberalium," Rabani, 
De Clericor. Instit. Ill, 18, opp. ed., Migne CVII, pp. 395, 396. Cf. 
Theodulph, Carmen, 46, vv. 1-8, M. G. H. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev. I, 
P- 544- 



seek after it with the right motive; if, disregarding worldly 
praise, honor and the deceitful pleasures of wealth, you pur- 
sue it for the sake of truth and righteousness. Wisdom 
is, however, not to be lightly won; there is no royal road; 
her heights will not be attained until the intervening plains 
and slopes have been crossed and ascended/' 1 

The second portion of the treatise is devoted to grammar. 
The latter, according to Alcuin, is divided into twenty-six 
parts, 2 with each of which he proceeds to deal in turn. As 
an introduction to this there is a discussion of words, letters 
and syllables, in the form of a dialogue. The latter is 
carried on between a Saxon and a Frank, in the preface 
to which dialogue Alcuin states that these, having but re- 
cently begun the study of grammatical subtleties, have de- 
cided to question each other in order to aid their memory 
in mastering the rules of grammar. "Do you," says the 
Frank very significantly, taking the initative, "answer the 
questions I now propound to you ; for you are older than I, 
being fifteen while I am but fourteen." The Saxon agrees 
to the proposal, provided that all questions of difficulty be 
referred to the master. The latter professes himself as well 
pleased with their proposition, and directs what he calls 
their 'disputation' 3 by starting them off in a discussion of 
'littera.' 4 It runs as follows : 

Frank Why, Saxon, is it called 'littera'? 

Saxon Because the letter prepares the path for the 
reader. 5 

Frank Give me then a definition for 'littera/ 

Saxon It is the smallest part of articulate voice. 

Both Master, is there another definition? 

(1) Grammatica, Migne CI, p. 850. 

(2) For an enumeration of these see Grammatica, Migne CI, p. 858. 

(3) Ibid., p. 854. (4) Ibid. 

(5) "Littera est quasi legitera, quia legentibus iter praebet," ibid., 
P. 855- 


Master There is, but of similar import. The letter is 
indivisible, because we divide the sentences into parts, and 
the parts into syllables and the latter into letters, which are 
thus indivisible. 

Both Why do you call letters, elements? 

Master Because as the members fitly joined together 
make the body, so the letters make speech. 

Frank State, my fellow pupil, the kinds of letters. 

Saxon They are vowels and consonants, which may be 
further sub-divided into semi-vowels and mutes. . . . 

After they have discussed the vowel and the consonant, 
they proceed to treat of the syllable in a similar way. 

Alcuin next proceeds to treat of the parts of speech. 
His definitions of these are as faulty as those of the older 
grammarians upon which they are based. Thus, from his 
definition 1 of the noun, it appears that he confuses it with 
the adjective, as the earlier grammarians had done, and 
while it is true that he feels this confusion, and attempts 
to give another definition, he fails to make his meaning 
clear. Evidently, his untrained mind could not distinguish 
between the object itself and its manifestations or quali- 
ties : to him 'sanctus' and 'sanctitas' are both nouns. 2 
Moreover, he is not always able to understand and appre- 
ciate the differences between his two chief guides, Donatus 
and Priscian. For example, he is greatly puzzled whether 
he should follow Donatus and treat of six divisions under 
the noun, or whether, like Priscian, he should limit him- 
self to five. The chief things which he explains under the 
noun are its kind, gender, number, case and figures. 

The other parts of speech are discussed in a similar way. 
The verb is treated most extensively; and in the course 

(1) "Nomen est pars orationis . . . quae unicuique corpori vel 
rei communem vel propriam qualitatem distribuit," ibid., p. 859. 

(2) Thus he classes "sanctus" and "sanctitas" among the "denomi- 
native" nouns. Ibid., p. 860. 


of the dialogue the Saxon gives an appalling list of irregu- 
larities in mode and tense. 1 So formidable is it that the 
Saxon himself is dismayed and discouraged. "Lo, Frank/' 
says he, "what a burden you have laid upon me! What a 
thorny path you have led me into! Let us have a mo- 
ment's breathing space, I pray you." "So be it," replies 
the Frank: "As Vergil saith, 'I shall crush you with this 
weight.' Yet fear not 'Labor vincit omnia.' " 2 " Tis so," 
agrees the Saxon wearily, "let us continue." And they do, 
treating of the adverb, participle, conjunction and inter- 
jection, which discussion ends the treatise. 

Thus Alcuin's conception of grammar is a somewhat dif- 
ferent one from that of the grammarians of the late 
Roman empire. The latter had regarded it as something 
more than the art of speaking and writing correctly, and 
had studied literature along with it. Alcuin's grammar, on 
the other hand, pays no attention to literary form; it is 
a technical study and by no means a complete one, for it 
deals almost entirely with etymology. 3 Whatever of value 
attaches to it may be found in the older grammars of Dona- 
tus and Priscian. Yet, imperfect and childish as it is, the 
Grammatica must not be too hastily judged ; it may be ques- 
tioned whether any other kind of grammar would have been 
as intelligible to the untutored Frank. Its method was 
simple and attractive; the content, apart from a certain dis- 
play of erudition, calculated to inspire respect, is not too 
difficult for the ignorant Frank; on the whole it is well 
adapted to his need. 

Next to the Grammatica, Alcuin's most useful educa- 
tional work is his Orthography. This was probably written 

(i) Ibid., pp. 878-886. (2) Ibid., p. 885. 

(3) This, of course, does not mean that Alcuin paid no attention 
to syntax or prosody. It is evident he practiced his pupils in the 
writing of "dictamina." Ep. 172. Cf. Monach. Sangall., De Carolo. M. 
I, 3 : Jaffe, IV, p. 633. 


at Tours, and was designed to help him effect an immediate 
reform in matters of spelling and copying of the manu- 
scripts. Tours had once been famous for its learning and 
its copyists ; but the writing had degenerated, the manu- 
scripts were full of the grossest errors, and the copyists 
sorely in need of instruction. 1 They were, also, too much 
given to trifling and worked too hurriedly. One of his in- 
scriptions in the library, or Scriptorium, 2 warned them 
against these faults. Elsewhere he admonished his pupils 
not only to seek out the best possible manuscripts, but 
also to transcribe them accurately, taking care not to neg- 
lect the punctuation. The reader in the Scriptorium was 
also given wholesome advice "not to read falsely or too 
rapidly, lest he cause the copyist to< make mistakes." Fur- 
thermore, in an interesting letter to Charles, Alcuin com- 
plained that punctuation, though lending much to the clear- 
ness and beauty of sentences, has been neglected owing to 
the ignorance of the scribes. 3 In fact, the pronunciation and 
spelling of words had become so unsettled and so confus- 
ing as to render some such work as the Orthography im- 
perative, if Alcuin and his contemporaries were to leave 
to their successors reasonably accurate copies of the manu- 

In his introduction to the Orthography, Alcuin says, 
"Let him who would reproduce the sayings of the ancients 
read me; for he who follows me not will speak without 
regard to law." 4 Then he proceeds to call attention to some 
of the mistakes in form and spelling made by the barbarian 
Fratiks. "Such words," says he, "as aeternus, aetas, should 
be spelled with a dipthong f ce.' '' Another common mistake, 

(1) _Sulpicius Severus, Vita S. Martini, Migne XX, p. 166. Cf. 
Admonitio Generalis, cap. 72, M. G. H. Leg., Sect. II, 60. 

(2) Carmen, 94, M. G. H. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev. I, p. 320. 

(3) Ep. 172, p. 285. 

"Me legat antiquas vult qui proter 
sequitur, vult sine lege loqui," Migne CI, p. 902. 

(4) "Me legat antiquas vult qui proferre loquelas, Me qui non 


according to Alcuin, was the confusion of 'b' , not alone with 
V but even with 'f and 'u? "Thus," says Alcuin, "if you 
mean wool, write vellus; if beautiful, write bellus."* The 
misuse of the aspirate is another subject of which Alcuin 
treats. "Hdbeo should be written with an e h' and aspir- 
ated, whereas the reverse is true of abeo. Nor must it be 

)rgotten," he adds, "that f h' aspirate may be used before 
vowels, but after four consonants only, namely, c, t, p, 
The doubling of such consonants as /, m, n* as well 

the interchange of the last two, in prefixes, comes in for 
some consideration. Alcuin, moreover, is aware of what 
the modern grammarians call the principle of ease; for ex- 
ample, he points out that the frequent change of b into / or 

in prefixes, as in the case of suffero and suggero, is due 
a desire to secure ease of pronunciation. 4 By far the 
lost diverting features of the Orthography are those por- 
tions where he intersperses his treatment of rules, irregu- 
larities and mistakes by some very peculiar examples of 'der- 
ivations,' as, for instance, " 'Coelebs,' qui sibi Her facit ad 
coelum." 6 From the standpoint of philology, the Orthog- 
raphy is quite important as illustrating a transitional 
stage of the Latin language. The latter, which had 
already conquered the Celtic language, is here seen to be 
confronted with the Germanic, and their reaction upon each 
other resulted in great confusion. 

Alcuin's remaining works on the Trivium, the De Rhe- 

(1) Migne CI, pp. 902-903. Cf. Isidore, Etymologiarum, Book I, 
cap. 27. Migne, Vol. LXXXII, p. 101. 

(2) "H aspiratio ante vocales omnes poni potest ; post consonantes 
autem quatuor tantumodo, c, t, p, r," Migne CI, p. 910. Cf. Isidore, 
op. cit., Migne LXXXII, p. 102. 

(3) "Malo, id est magis volo; et nolo, id est ne volo per unum 
1. Malle, velle et nolle per due 1." Ibid., CI, p. 911. Cf. Isidore, 
op. cit., LXXXII, pp. 102-3. 

(4) "Saepe b in praepositione sub euphoniae causa im sequentem 
mutabitur consonantem ut suffero, suggero," Migne CI, p. 9 J 6. Cf. 

1 1sidore, op. cit., cap. 27, pp. 101-102. 
J (5) Migne, CI, p. 906. 


tone a et Virtutibus and the Dialectica are less important. 
They bear testimony to Alcuin's weakness in the field of 
rhetoric and dialectic. They are based on the works of his 
predecessors, and not the least remarkable thing about 
them is the uncontrovertible evidence they afford that 
/ Alcuin allowed himself to copy whole sentences and even 
/ paragraphs ad libitum from the works of Isidore of Seville 
and the Fathers. It is plain that he fears to disagree with 
these; he considers himself happy, if, peradventure, he 
understand the thoughts of the ancients through their in- 
terpretation. Thus in his introduction to the Dialectica, he 
says : "He who reads this book will praise the wonderful 
genius of the ancients, and will strive so far as in him 
lieth to attain unto like wisdom." 1 The first of these works, 
the De Rhetorica et Virtutibus, is based on the writings 
of Cicero and of Isidore, whose ideas Alcuin reproduces 
with great loss to their originals as far as form and force 
are concerned. For the rules, principles, and main divisions 
of his rhetoric, he draws largely upon Cicero's De Inven- 
tione, which he quotes at times word for word. 2 His second 
source is Isidore, whom he cites quite as freely. Hence, 
we find in the Rhetorica the five divisions, the three kinds 
of rhetorical speech, the six parts of an oration, which meet 
us in Cicero's De Inventions and Isidore's Etymologies* 
There is, however, one part of the treatise where he is more 

(1) De Dialectica, Migne CI, p. 951. Cf. Carmen, 77, M. G. H. 
Poet. Lat. Med. Aev. I, p. 298. 

(2) Thus Alcuin borrows Cicero's well-known passage, "Nam Fuit 
quoddam tempus, cum in agris homines passim bestiarum modo vaga- 
bantur." Cf. Opera Rhetorica, Ed. G. Friederich, Vol. I, pt. I, p. 118. 

(3) "Artis Rhetoricae partes quinque sunt; inventio, dispositio, elo- 
cutio, memoria, et pronuntiatio," Migne CI, p. 921. Cf. Isidore, Ety- 
mologiarum." Book 2, cap. 3, Vol. LXXXII, p. 125. "Ars quidem 
rhetoricae in tribus versatur generibus id est demonstrative, delibera- 
tive, judiciali," Rhetorica Migne CI, p. 922. Cf. Isidore, op. cit., cap. 
4, p. 125. "Sex sunt partes, per quas ab oratore ordinanda est oratio. 
Causae exordium, narratio, confirmatio, partitio, reprehensio, conclusio," 
Migne CI, p. 929. Isidore has but four of these. 


original. This is the portion that deals with the applica- 
tion of rhetoric to suits at law. In the dialogue between 
Charles and Alcuin which serves as an introduction to this 
work, he defines rhetoric as the art of "good speaking," but 
he goes on to explain that it also treats of civil questions. 1 

'Just as," says he, "it is natural for us to attack an enemy 
and to defend ourselves, so we are prone to justify our- 
selves and blame others, but he who has perfected him- 
self in the art of rhetoric will protect himself more skil- 
fully; he will excel all others in debate, even as the skilled 
soldier will overcome him who has no training in the use 
of arms." It was this practical side of rhetoric which ap- 
pealed to Charles. 'Teach me the rules of rhetoric, I pray 
thee," the latter says, "for every day I have need of them." 2 

iccordingly, Alcuin proceeds to define rhetoric, to state its 
divisions and to show how it may be applied in conduct- 
ing and determining civil suits. Herein lies its chief signifi- 
cance: it is one of those works that serves to mark the 
transition from the earlier technical treatment of the sub- 
ject in ancient times to the later and more practical treat- 
ment in the Middle Ages as seen in the text-books of the 
Dictamen. Such a work as Alcuin's Rhetorica goes far 
to bear out Rashdall's contention that it was customary in 
the Middle Ages to study rhetoric as an aid in the com- 
position of legal documents. 8 

But the most characteristic thing about Alcuin's 
Rhetorica is the persistence with which the moral aspects 
of the subject are emphasized. This is apparent even in 
the earlier and more technical part of the treatise. Thus, 
there is a tendency to explain rhetorical principles by illus- 

(1) "In civilibus quaestionibus, quae natural! animi ingenio concipi 
possint," ibid., p. 921. Cf. Isidore, op. cit., p. 140, where the same phrase 
occurs word for word. Cf. Carmen, 82, M. G. H. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev. 
I, p. 300. 

(2) Migne CI, p. 921. 

(3) H. Rashdall, Universities in the Middle Ages, Vol. I, p. 94- 


trations from the scriptures. 1 Again, when Charles asks 
Alcuin how he may strengthen the memory, the latter en- 
joins him to avoid intemperance, the chief foe of all liberal 
studies, the destroyer of bodily health, and of mental sound- 
ness. 2 Here Alcuin implies that rhetoric will avail the 
orator but little unless he be virtuous : if he have not a 
proper knowledge of the human heart, its joys, its sor- 
rows and its virtues, his words will have no power. It is 
this conviction, probably, which led Alcuin to close his 
treatise with a short description of the four cardinal vir- 
tues, prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. In the 
introduction to this part of the treatise, he says: "There 
are certain things so splendid and so noble that the mere 
possession of them is a sufficient reward in itself; one 
honors and loves them for a dignity which is all their own." 
Charles, much impressed, asks what these may be. "They 
are virtue, knowledge, truth, pure love," rejoins Alcuin, 
"and they are honored by Christians and philosophers 
alike." 3 A discussion of the above mentioned cardinal vir- 
tues and their various subdivisions ends the treatise. 
> Closely associated with rhetoric in Alcuin's day was the 
study of dialectic. In his Dialectica, he explains their rela- 
tion to each other. "They differ," says he, "as the clenched 
fist from the open hand ; the one masses its arguments with 
directness and precision, while the other develops them 
through discoursive eloquence.' 4 As is well known, the 
Dialectica is based on the pseudo-Augustinian work on the 
categories and on Isidore's Etymologies? Alcuin does not 

(i) Notably his citation of Paul's defense before Felix, as an 
instance of the use of the deliberativum, Migne CI, p. 922. (2) Ibid., 
p. 941. (3) Ibid., pp. 943-4- 

(4) "Dialectica et rhetorica est, quod in manu hominis pugnus 
astrictus et palma distenta," et seq. ibid., p. 953. Cf. Isidore, op. cit., 
Book 2, cap. 23, where the same idea is found in almost identical 

(5) Categoriae decum Migne, Vol. XXXII, pp. 1419-1440, cf. 
Prantl, C, Geschichte der Logik im Abendlande, II, p. 14. Etymolo- 
giarum, op. cit., infra, Book 2. 


dream of excelling these authorities, but very complacently 
sets to work to reproduce them. The result is one of the 
most consistent pieces of plagiarism that has ever been 
produced. There is scarcely an original idea throughout 
the whole Dialectic a; its plan, subject divisions, chapter 
headings, and nomenclature, are the same as in the above 
mentioned works; whole sentences, nay, whole paragraphs 
are copied, in some places word for word. Thus in his 
introductory chapter, he divides philosophy into physics, 
ethics and logic, and these are further subdivided; physics 
into arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy; ethics 
into the four cardinal virtues, prudence, justice, fortitude 
and temperance; logic, into rhetoric and dialectic. Under 
the latter he treats of isagogues, categories, syllogisms, 
definitions, topics, and the perihermenies. These divisions, 
together with their explanations and definitions, are almost 
identical with those we find in Isidore's work. 1 The same 
is true of the second chapter, which deals with the isa- 
gogues. The second division of the treatise, comprising 
chapters three to ten inclusive, is based on a similar work 
long ascribed to Augustine. 2 Here Alcuin follows his 
source even more closely than in the first two chapters : 
not only are the ten Aristotelian categories the same as 

(1) The following passages show the extent to which Alcuin has 
copied from Isidore. Alcuin's introduction reads : "Philosophia est 
naturarum inquisitio, rerum humanarum ; divinarumque cognitio ; quan- 
tum homini possibile est aestimare," Migne CI, cap. I, p. 952. Cf. 
Isidore : "Philosophia est rerum humanarum divinarumque cognitio cum 
studio bene vivendi conjuncta. Item aliqui doctorum; Philosophia est 
divinarum humanarumque rerum in quantum homini possibile est," 
Isidore, op. cit., Book 2, cap 24, Vol. LXXXII, pp. 140-141. "In quot 
partes dividitur philosophia? In tres ; physiciam, ethicam, logicam. 
Haec quoque latino ore exprome. Physica est naturalis, ethica moralis, 
logica rationalis," Dialectica, p. 952. Cf. "Philosophiae species tripartita 
est una naturalis, quae Graece physica appellatur, altera moralis quae 
Graece ethica dicitur ; tertia rationalis quae Graeco vocabulo logica 
appellatur," Etymologiarum, op. cit., p. 141. 

(2) Alcuin believed Augustine was the author, as is evident from 
his citation in cap. 10 of Dialectica: "Augustinus magnus orator nlius 


those found in the pseudo-Augustinian work, but they are 
discussed in just the same way and at times in identical 
language. 1 Nor is Alcuin any more original in the last part 
of the treatise, where he once more reverts to Isidore as 
his source in his discussion of the "topics" and the "periher- 
s-menies." 2 Thus, Alcuin's proud boast made in the intro- 
duction to the effect that "he had brought treasurers of wis- 
dom from over the sea" 3 was not without foundation. 
These treasures were not his own, however, nor, to do him 
justice, would he have claimed that they were. In conclu- 
sion we may say that a study of the Rhetorica and the Dia- 
lectica goes far to prove that while the reign of rhetoric was 
over in Alcuin's day, the mediaeval regime of dialectics 
had not yet begun. Nevertheless, inferior as Alcuin's trea- 
tises on these subjects were, it would seem that the Dialec- 
tica must have played a great part in promoting the study 
of logic in Europe, by reason of the number of his pupils 
i and the influence he exerted over them. 4 

The quadrivium, (or mathematical subjects), consisted 
of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. In com- 
parison with these, the trivium was considered child's play. 5 
While secular education was by no means restricted to the 
study of the latter, there can be no doubt but that the 
quadrivium was much more essential to the clergy than to 
': the laity. Arithmetic and astronomy were particularly in- 
dispensable for computing the correct date of Easter. 6 

(i) For a comparison of citations from the two works, see Mon- 
nier's Alcuin, p. 48. (2) The "topics" is based on Isidore, cap 30, 
Migne, Vol. LXXXII, pp. 151-153; that on the "perihermenies" is based 
on cap. 27, Migne, LXXXII, p. 145. 

(3) Dialectics, Migne CI, p. 951. Cf. Carmen, 77, M. G. H. Poet. 
Lat. Med. Aev. I, p. 298. 

(4) Cf. P. Abelson, Seven Liberal Arts, p. 80, note I. 

(5) Bonifatii, Ep. 3- Jaffe, op. tit. Ill, p. 33. 

(6) Charles insisted on his clergy's knowing how to calculate the 
dates of church holidays and to arrange the calendar for the year. Cf. 
Admonitio Generalis, C, 72, M. G. H. Leg. Sect. II, I, 60. Cf. "Quae a 
presbyteris discenda sint," c. 8, Ibid. I, p. no. 


Alcuin bore witness to this and at the same time complained 
that mathematics were almost entirely neglected in his day. 1 
However, thanks to the personal interest and earnest efforts 
of Charles, much progress was made in these subjects. 2 

Alcuin himself wrote little on the quadrivium. So far 
as arithmetic is concerned, it is just possible that he re- 
garded it as so indispensable a part of education, that he did 
not think it worth while to write upon it, unless to explain 
some of its special or difficult phases. 3 It is certain from 
Alcuin's description of the school at York that he knew 
enough of arithmetic to teach the subject. 4 It does not 
seem likely that he went beyond the simple operations of 
addition, subtraction and multiplication. 5 These were con- 
ducted by means of finger reckoning and the reckoning 
board, 6 on which nummi or calculi were used. 7 It does 
not seem very probable that he knew the abacus or the 
apices, inasmuch as these did not come into general use 
until after Alcuin's day. 8 

The only arithmetical work ascribed to Alcuin is his pos- 
sibly spurious Propositions ad acuendos juvenes. These 

(1) "Obprobrium est grande, ut dimittamus eas perire diebus nos- 
tris." Ep. 148, p. 239. 

(2) Charles brought "computists" from Italy. Nota ad annales 
Lauriss, a. 787, M. G. H. SS. I, 171. Compare Ep. 126, 145, Einhart, Vita 
Caroli, c. 25, M. G. H. SS. II. 

(3) Cantor, M., Mathematische Beitrdge sum Kulturleben der Vol- 
ker," p. 286. 

(4) Versus de Sanctus Eborac. Eccles. v, 1445, et seq. 

(5) Cantor, M., Vorlesungen uber Geschichte der Mathematik, Vol. 
I, p. 839. Ball, W. R. R., A Short Account cf the History of Mathe- 
matics, p. 125. 

(6) Friedlein, G., Die Zahlzeichen und das Elementare Rcchnen der 
Griechen und Romer und des Christlichen Abendlandes, vom 7 ten bis 
i$ten Jahrhundert, p. 50. Hankel, H., Zur Gescnichte der Mathematik 
im Altcrtum und Mittelalter, p. 309. Computus vel loquela digit orum, 
Bede, Migne, Vol. XC, p. 295. 

(7) Ep. 149, P- 243- 

(8) Hankel, op. cit., p. 317. J. Cajon, A History of Elementary 
Mathematics, p. 112. Cantor, however, thinks that Alcuin may have 
had some knowledge of the "apices." He bases his opinion upon two 
references (Ep. 133 and Versus de Sanctus Eborac. Eccles., v 1445)- 
Cf. Cantor, op. cit., p. 839. 


are problems or rather riddles, designed to entertain or 
please the reader. 1 Some of them are soluble by algebraical 
and geometrical means ; others are insoluble save by an ex- 
ercise of wit and of dialectics. To the latter class belongs 
the problem of the wolf, the goat, and the cabbage-head. 2 
In some of the problems, Alcuin is the immediate imitator 
of the Romans, the indirect imitator of the Greeks. 3 Thus 
the famous problem of the hound and the hare, and the 
equally noted one of the will, as well as many others, came 
down to him from the Greeks and the Romans. 4 A slight 
study of the problems shows us that even if Alcuin be their 
author, the mathematicians of his day knew little more than 
addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. They 
appear to have had some knowledge of square root and of 
fractions, but they knew no geometry, save a few useful 
formulae for practical purposes in measurement, while in 
algebra they did not go beyond simple equations. 

Alcuin put arithmetic to a use other than of the ordi- 
nary one of computing Easter. After the example of 
Augustine, Cassiodorus, and Gregory the Great, he applied 
the theory of numbers to the explanation of Scripture. He 
knew how to find a significance in every number used in 
the Bible, and he strongly recommends that all clerics be 
educated in the "science of numbers." 5 In his treatment of 
numbers, he classifies them as perfect and imperfect. Thus, 
six is a perfect number because it is equal to the sum of 
its divisors, one, two, three, whereas eight is a defective 
number, being greater than the sum of its divisors, one, 

(1) Cajori, op. cit., p. 113. Cantor, op. cit., p. 835. Hagen, H., 
Antike und Mittelaltcrliche Ratselpoesie, 2nd Edn., pp. 29-34. 

(2) Problem 18, Migne CI, p. 1149. 

(3) Cantor, M., Die Romischen Agrimensoren und ihre Stellung in 
der Geschichte der Feldmesserkimst, pp. 143-144. 

(4) Cf. Problems 19 and 26, ibid., pp. 1150, 1155. 

(5) Alcuini Exposit. in psalm. Ponit. praef. ad Arnonem, Migne 
C, p. 573- 


ing its sessions wherever the King had his court, fulfilled 
a noble purpose in fitting such young men for their life 
work, through the agency of the greatest teacher of his ^ 
time. There can be little doubt but that Charles' well- 
known penchant for well educated servants in church and 
state, brought many aspirants for his favor to the Palace 
School. Consequently, as he was aiming to produce states- 
men as well as churchmen, he desired Alcuin to instruct 
the pupils of the school in something more than the chant, 
the reading of Latin, and the calculating of Easter. Fur- 
thermore, the latter not only did impart to his pupils the 
practical knowledge that fitted them for preferment in 
church and state, but, as he himself proudly states, 1 he 
also gave them instruction in all those branches of knowl- 
edge that had come down from the Romans. 

The Palace School was composed of the royal family, 
the young nobles and officials of the King, together with all . / 
those who sought position and preferment, 2 the only 
avenue to which lay in compliance with Charles' wish that 
they should first fit themselves for it by education. 3 Gun- 
drada, together with other ladies of the royal family, were 
present, lending grace and brightness to that charmed 
circle, the Round Table of the Franks, as it mighj: be called. 
And of course, the Round Table would not be complete 
without its Arthur, the mighty Charles, whom Alcuin 
sometimes designates as Solomon, because of his wisdom, 
though more frequently he calls him David on account of 
his warlike prowess. 4 To the members of this circle, their 
teacher gave new names, partly in accordance with cus- 
tom, partly as a reminder that they were going to begin a 

(i) Alcuini de Studiis in aula regia, Carmen, 26, M. G. H. Poet. Lat. 
Med. Aev., I, pp. 245, 246. (2) Einhard, Vita, cap. 19. 

(3) Capitularies 22, 38, 43, 116, 117, also Monach. Sangall. Book 
I, cap. 3, M. G. H. SS. II, p. 732. 

(4) />/>. 229, 231, 143. 


and is said to have written a book on music which has 
disappeared. Throughout his period, music was more of a 
speculative science than an art. 

r As a teacher, Alcuin had ample opportunity to carry on 
his great work under circumstances which were calculated 
to make him the most potent educational force of his day* 
York was the educational centre of England, Tours was 
one of the oldest and greatest monasteries of France, while 
the Palace School was the capstone of Charles' educational 
system. It was Alcuin's good fortune to teach in all of. 
these places. The system of education planned by Charles, 
and partially carried out by his bishops and archbishops, 
made provision for elementary and secondary instruction in 
a parish school, 1 presided over by the parish priest. Next 
came the monastic or cathedral schools, which likewise fur- 
nished elementary instruction; though in some cases, they 
also gave instruction in the higher branches of learning. 
Over them was the abbot or scholasticus appointed by the 
bishop. At the head of the system, intended in a measure 
as a model for the lower schools, stood the Palace School. 2 . 
The origin of this school which thus occupied an unique 
position in the system of Charlemagne has long been a 
debated question. 3 It would be idle for us to enter into 
a discussion of it here. Suffice it to say that it seems safe 
to conclude, that the Great King gathered around him the 
noble youths of his kingdom youths destined for high pre- 
ferment in church or state, and that these youths consti- 
tuted the Palace School; that furthermore, the school hold- 

(1) Admonitio Generalis, a. 789, c. 72. M. G. H. Leg. Sect. II, i, 
p. 60. 

(2) Epistola Litteris Colendis, ibid., I, p. 79. 

(3) For the origin of the Palace School see the following: Mullin- 
ger, p. 68, footnote 3; Hauck, II, p. 121; Monnier, pp. 56-59; Lorenz, 
p. 23; Werner, p. 22; Denk, Gallo-Frankisches Unterrichts und .8*7- 
dungswesen, p. 246; Specht, Geschichte des Unterrichtswesen in 
Deutschland, pp. 3-5, 18, together with authorities there cited. 


graphical, cosmological encyclopedia. 1 It was a compre- 
hensive text-book, giving instruction in such things as 
chronology, the course of the sun, moon and stars, the 
changes of the season, meteorology, climate, and geography. 
And we have it on record that Alcuin himself studied these 
things at York. 2 Moreover, he knew enough about as- 
tronomy to go beyond Bede to Pliny's Natural History, 
whose second book he asked Charles to send him. 3 

The remaining members of the quadrivium, music and 
geometry, may be dismissed with a word. The latter was 
practically neglected until the eleventh century. 4 It dealt, 
not so much with geometry as we understand the term, 
as with mensuration, geography and kindred subjects. 
Thus it taught how to find the area of triangles, rectangles 
and circles by the same formula of approximation which 
the Egyptians and Boethius had used. 5 And it would seem 
that it taught something of the size and form of the 
earth, of the disposition of land and water, of zones, tides, 
and eclipses, together with some natural history. 6 As for 
music, it was indispensable for the services of the church, 
and as such, was one of the most important of the quad- 
rivium. Charles did much to promote it in the monastic 
and cathedral schools by bringing singers from Rome, and 
by establishing special schools to teach the chant. 7 Alcuin 
paid special attention to the teaching of singing at Tours, 

(i) Werner, Bede der Ehrwurdige, p. 93- Cf. Monumenta Ger- 
mania Paedogogica, Vol. Ill, p. 5- Wattenbach, Geschichtsquellen, 

(2)' Versus de Sanct. Eborac., Eccles., op. cit., vv, 1430-1445. Ep. 
155, p. 250. 

(3) Ep. 155, P- 250. 

(4) Specht, Unterrichtswesens in Deutschland, p. 144. . 

(5) Alcuini propositions ad accuendos juvenes. Migne, CI, pp. 

(6) Versus de Sanct. Eborac., Eccles , op. *., vv. J439-I445- 

(7) Additam. Engolism. ad. ann. Lauriss. maj. a. 788, M. U. H. 5b. 
I, pp. 170, 171. Cf. Chronic. Moissiac. ad. a. 802, M. G. H. SS. I, p. 


and is said to have written a book on music which has 
disappeared. Throughout his period, music was more of a 
speculative science than an art. 

As a teacher, Alcuin had ample opportunity to carry on 
his great work under circumstances which were calculated 
to make him the most potent educational force of his day.. 
York was the educational centre of England, Tours was 
one of the oldest and greatest monasteries of France, while 
the Palace School was the capstone of Charles' educational 
system. It was Alcuin's good fortune to teach in all of. 
these places. The system of education planned by Charles, 
and partially carried out by his bishops and archbishops, 
made provision for elementary and secondary instruction in 
a parish school, 1 presided over by the parish priest. Next 
came the monastic or cathedral schools, which likewise fur- 
nished elementary instruction; though in some cases, they 
also gave instruction in the higher branches of learning. 
Over them was the abbot or scholasticus appointed by the 
bishop. At the head of the system, intended in a measure 
as a model for the lower schools, stood the Palace School. 2 . 

The origin of this school which thus occupied an unique 
position in the system of Charlemagne has long been a 
debated question. 3 It would be idle for us to enter into 
a discussion of it here. Suffice it to say that it seems safe 
to conclude, that the Great King gathered around him the 
noble youths of his kingdom youths destined for high pre- 
ferment in church or state, and that these youths consti- 
tuted the Palace School; that furthermore, the school hold- 

(1) Admonitio Generalis, a. 789, c. 72. M. G. H. Leg. Sect. II, i, 
p. 60. 

(2) Epistola Litteris Colendis, ibid., I, p. 79. 

(3) For the origin of the Palace School see the following: Mullin- 
ger, p. 68, footnote 3; Hauck, II, p. 121; Monnier, pp. 56-59; Lorenz, 
p. 23 ; Werner, p. 22 ; Denk, Gallo-Frankisches Unterrichts und Bil- 
dungswesen, p. 246; Specht, Geschichte des Unterrichtswesen in 
Deutschland, pp. 3-5, 18, together with authorities there cited. 


graphical, cosmological encyclopedia. 1 It was a compre- 
hensive text-book, giving instruction in such things as 
chronology, the course of the sun,, moon and stars, the 
changes of the season, meteorology, climate, and geography. 
And we have it on record that Alcuin himself studied these 
things at York. 2 Moreover, he knew enough about as- 
tronomy to go beyond Bede to Pliny's Natural History, 
whose second book he asked Charles to send him. 3 

The remaining members of the quadrivium, music and 
geometry, may be dismissed with a word. The latter was 
practically neglected until the eleventh century. 4 It dealt, 
not so much with geometry as we understand the term, 
as with mensuration, geography and kindred subjects. 
Thus it taught how to find the area of triangles, rectangles 
and circles by the same formula of approximation which 
the Egyptians and Boethius had used. 5 And it would seem 
that it taught something of the size and form of the 
earth, of the disposition of land and water, of zones, tides, 
and eclipses, together with some natural history. 6 As for 
music, it was indispensable for the services of the church, 
and as such, was one of the most important of the quad- 
rivium. Charles did much to promote it in the monastic 
and cathedral schools by bringing singers from Rome, and 
by establishing special schools to teach the chant. 7 Alcuin 
paid special attention to the teaching of singing at Tours, 

(1) Werner, Bede der Ehrwurdige, p. 93. Cf. Monumenta Ger- 
mania Paedogogica, Vol. Ill, p. 5. Wattenbach, Geschichtsquellen, 
p. 130. 

(2) Versus de Sanct. Eborac., Eccles., op. cit., vv, 1430-1445. Ep. 
155, p. 250. 

(3) Ep. 155, P. 250. 

(4) Specht, Unterrichtswesens in Deutschland, p. 144. . 

(5) Alcuini propositions ad accuendos juvenes. Migne, CI, pp. 

(6) Versus de Sanct. Eborac., Eccles , op. cit., vv. 1439-1445. 

(7) Additam. Engolism. ad. ann. Lauriss. maj. a. 788, M. G. H. SS. 
I, pp. 170, 171. Cf. Chronic. Moissiac. ad. a. 802, M. G. H. SS. I, p. 


two, four, and he goes on to explain that the number of 
beings created by God is six, because six is a perfect num- 
ber, and God created all things well. Seven, likewise, 
being composed of one and six is a perfect number. And 
he adds that God completed the creation in six days to 
show that he had done all things well. 1 An even better ex- 
ample of his science of numbers is in Epistle 260, where he 
deals with the numbers from one to ten, and explains their 
significance. "As there is one ark," says Alcuin, "in which 
the faithful were saved amid a perishing world, so there 
is one Holy Church wherein the faithful may be saved, 
though the sinners perish ; and as there was one flight of the 
children of Israel through the Dead Sea to the promised 
land, so there is one baptism, through which alone one may 
attain to eternal life." 2 

A knowledge of astronomy was quite as important as 
arithmetic in computing the date of Easter. King Charles 
did much to promote the study of this subject; his letters 
to Alcuin not only attest his desire to have a correct calen- 
dar, 3 but they also evince a genuine liking for the subject 
itself. Astronomy, in fact, became a sort of fad; the ladies 
of the court took it up. 4 Alcuin's book, the De cursu et 
saltn lunw ac bissexto, dealt merely with the astronomy of 
the computus; but it is quite evident that he knew a great 
deal more of the subject than the mere technical skill re- 
quired in calculating Easter. To begin with, Alcuin was 
familiar with Becle's Book De Natura Rerum, that cosmo- 

(1) Likewise three and four are also perfect numbers, the first be- 
cause it represents the Trinity, the second because it stands for the four 
parts of the world, or the four cardinal virtues, or the four Gospels. 
Cf. Comemntary on Apocalypse, Migne C, p. 1130. Commentary on 
Genesis, ibid., pp. 520-521. Cf. Ep. 81. 

(2) Ibid. Cf. Cajori, op. cit., p. 113. 

'3) Epp. 145, 456, 155, 170. Einhard, Vita Caroli, op. cit., cap. 25, 

M. G. H. SS. Vol. II, p. 456. (4) "Noctibus inspiciat caeli mea filia 
Stellas." Carmen, 26, v. 41, M. G. H. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev., I, p. 246. 


new life, entirely different from that warlike and barbar- 
ous one in which they had been nurtured. 1 

With such a coterie of friends and pupils, ranging in 
age from mere youths to men experienced in council and 
war, Alcuin had no easy task. It must have been particu- 
larly difficult to interest and instruct such a heterogeneous 
circle to the benefit of all. And yet, for fourteen long 
years he ministered to the needs of his different pupils 
with unwavering enthusiasm and tireless energy. While 
he instilled the rudiments of knowledge into the minds of 
the youth, he also found time to direct the studies and 
solve the difficulties of the older members of the circle. 
They studied the Seven Liberal Arts, paying special atten- 
tion to the studies of grammar and rhetoric, seeking to per- 
fect themselves in elegance of expression by a careful study 
of the masterpieces of the ancients. 2 At times, however, 
he grew weary and a little restive, under the constant ques- 
tioning, the not infrequent baiting to which he was sub- 
jected. Thus, questioned by one, cross-questioned by an- 
other, the old man sometimes doubled in his tracks, and 
made mistakes. This he admitted long afterwards when 
at Tours. "The horse," he quaintly remarks, "which has 
four legs often stumbles, how much more must man who 
has but one tongue often trip in speech." To such vexa- 
tious experiences were superadded the tiring journeys of 
the court and the interruption of his studies due to his 
abbatial duties, all of which made the old scholar often 
long for the peaceful seclusion of the cloister. This, in a 
measure, he was to obtain as Abbot of Tours, whither 
Charles sent him to reform the monks and possibly, also, 

(1) "Saepe familiaritas nominis inmutationem solet facere ; sicut ipse 
Dominus Simonem mutavit in Petrum, et filios Zebedei filios nominavit 
tonitrui," Ep. 241. 

(2) Ep. 172. 


to establish a school which would serve as a model for the 
other monasteries in Frankland. 1 

p Alcuin assumed the task with great zeal. The monas- 
tic school at Tours as well as those elsewhere had greatly 
declined. Since these were the main outfitters for the 
parish priest, Alcuin felt that it was high time for reform. 
He regarded the monastic and cathedral schools as neces- 
sary to perpetuate a priesthood which would be able to de- 
fend the doctrines of the Catholic Church and defend her 
ritual. And the troublous condition of the times, together 
with the fate of learning in his own country of Northum- 
bria, may well have made him anxious as to the outlook 
in Frankland. His letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury 
admonishing him "to promote learning among the house- 
hold of God, teaching the youths to study the books, and 
to learn the chant so that the dignity of the church may be 
upheld," 2 probably represents the position which he would 
have the monastic and cathedral schools in Frankland 

The instruction imparted in Alcuin's school at Tours was 
necessarily more in accordance with the traditions of the 
church than that which he had dispensed as Master of the 
Palace School. True, he pursued the same studies, but in a 
narrower spirit, taking as his model his old school at York. 
He himself describes what he taught at Tours, and how he 
directed his pupils. "In accordance with your exhortation 
and desire," he writes to Charles, "I, your Flaccus, strive 
to minister unto some of the Brotherhood at St Martins, 
the honeys of Holy Scriptures; others, I seek to inebriate 
with the old wine of the ancient Scriptures; others, I am 
beginning to nourish on the 'apples of grammatical sub- 

(1) "Equus, quattuor habens pedes, saepe cadit; quanto magis homo, 
unam habens linguam, per vices cadit in verbo?" Ep. 149. Cf. Carmen, 
42, M. G. H. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev., op. cit., I, pp. 253, 254. 

(2) Ep. 128, p. 190. Cf. Epp. 31, 226. 


tlety;' others, again, I try to initiate into the mysteries of 
the stars." x He taught the Liberal Arts at Tours as he 
had taught them at York and at the Palace School. Nat- 
urally, however, a school whose chief purpose was to pre- 
pare priests for the church would emphasize the teaching 
of grammar, the study of the Scriptures and the Fathers, 
the learning of the chant, and the art of copying and illu- 
minating the manuscripts. 2 That was the program for the 
majority of the pupils; a few of the older and more ma- 
ture, however, studied in addition astronomy, the "science 
of numbers" together with philosophy, or as Alcuin terms 
it, "the acute disquisitions of the wise men on the nature 
of things." 3 Some of the most advanced pupils who en- 
joyed his confidence and affection were made companions 
in labor, collecting and verifying patristic citations for his 
controversial works. 4 

Alcuin was very much at home in Tours. He was en- 
gaged in the vocation of teaching for which he was best 
fitted. He worked along traditional lines after the model 
of the cathedral school at York. We cannot conceive of 
his tolerating at Tours those irregularities, digressions, in- 
formal discussions and excursions into all sorts of unbeaten 
paths which had vexed his patient soul while teaching in 
the Palace School. We may be sure that he followed in 
his own classes that advice which he had given to his 
friend Eanbald of York: "Provide masters both for the 
boys and the clerks/' says he, "arrange into separate 
-classes those who practice the chant, those who study the 
books, and those who do the copying." 5 Such a division 
gave each one the work for which he was best fitted, while 
it also made for discipline. 

(1) Ep. 121, pp. 176-177, translation by West, p. 66. 

(2) Carmen, 93, Die Scola et Scholastic**, M. G. H. Poet. Lat. Med. 
Aev., op. cit., I, pp. 319-320. 'Cf. Ep. 121. 

(3) Gaskoin, op. cit., p. 193. (4) Ep. 149, P- 244- (5) Ep. 114. 


Alcuin would tolerate neither idleness nor levity. In that 
same letter to Eanbald he wrote : "Let each class have its 
own master, so that the boys be not allowed to run about 
in idleness, nor engage in silly play." x The pupils, more- 
over, were to be punctual; the "Admonitio juvenum" 
urged the boys to open their eyes immediately when the 
bell rang for matins. 2 Another inscription over the door 
of the school recommended the students to be diligent, and 
the masters to be indulgent. 3 Thus was justice tempered 
with mercy. Alcuin, himself, though he knew how to be 
firm, was very sympathetic and at times playful in his at- 
titude towards his pupils. His inscription over the dormi- 
tories wishing his boys sweet repose in the name of One 
who never slept is a veritable benediction. 4 

In other respects Alcuin was a modern, nay, a model 
teacher. His definiteness of aim, his efforts to arouse in- 
terest, and to awaken the imagination, his ability to adapt 
himself to his pupils' needs, his high idea of learning for 
its own sake, all are admirable. Yet it was his personality, 
his sympathy for his pupils, his untiring efforts in their 
behalf, above all, the force of his own example, which were 
the most potent factors in giving him an ascendancy over 
their hearts and minds. The enthusiasm with which they 
studied under him, the veneration in which they held him, 
the loyalty with which they followed the narrow but safe 
path of tradition which he had marked out for them, leave 
no room for doubt as to his pre-eminence in his day as a 
scholar and teacher. His name, his methods, became- a tra- 
dition ; a hundred years afterwards, an ardent admirer gave 

(i) "Habeas et singulis his ordinibus magistros suos, ne, vacantes 
otio, vagi discurrant per loca vel inanes exerceant ludos vel aliis manci- 
pentur ineptiis," Ep. 114, p. 169. Cf. "Non per campos discurrentes" et 
seq., p. 168. (2) Carmen, 97, M. G. H. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev., I, pp. 321, 

(3) Carmen, 93, ibid., pp. 319, 320. 

(4) In Dormiturio, Carmen, 96, ibid., p. 321. 


him the palm over Priscian and Donatus. 1 Even before 
the end of Charles' reign his influence is discernible. 
Leidrad of Lyons had established his schools. The one, 
the "scola cantorum," prepared many teachers of the chant, 
while the 'other, the "scola lectorum," made considerable 
progress in the study of the Scriptures. 2 Under Theodulph 
of Orleans the liberal arts were being studied and many 
beautiful as well as accurate manuscripts produced. 3 Arno 
of Bavaria, too, maintained cathedral schools, founded a 
library of one hundred and fifty books, and established a 
chronicle. At Corbie, likewise, and at St. Riquier, where 
Alcuin's pupils Adalhard and Angilbert lived, as well as at 
Metz, Fleury, and St. Amands, there was a wonderful 
revival. 4 

And so, unimportant as the educational works of Alcuin 
appear, mediocre, ill-digested as his learning undoubtedly 
was, yet by reason of his own untiring enthusiasm and the 
splendid loyalty of his pupils, he was enabled to effect a 
real renaissance in Frankland. Though he added nothing 
to the world's knowledge, he assimilated the learning of his 
predecessors in such measure that it was the more securely 
transmitted to future ages. 

(1) Notatio Nothkeri, Duemmler, Formelbuch des Bischofs Sa- 
lomo, p. 72, quoted in Gaskoin, p. 245, note 3. 

(2) Leidrad, Ep. 30, M. G. H. Epistol., IV., p. 543- 

(3) M. G. H. Poet. Lat. Med. Aev., op. cit., I, p. 544. . 

(4) Hauck, op. cit., II, p. 196, and authorities there cited. 



ALCUIN, Opera Omnia, 2 vols. Paris, 1851. (Migne, Patrologia Latina, 
C, CI). This is a reprint of the edition of Froben, published at 
Ratisbon, 1777. 

Carmina, ed. E. Duemmler (Monumenta Germaniae Historica; 
Poetarum Latinorum Medii Aevi, I, pp. 160-351). 

Epistolae, ed. E, Duemmler (M. G. H. Epistolarum, Vol. IV, pp. 

Epistolae, ed. P. Jaffe ("Monumenta Alcuiniana" in Bibliotheca 
Rerum Germanicarum, Vol. VI, pp. 131-901, Berlin, 1867). 

Vita, ed. W. Arndt (M. G. H. SS. XV, pt. I, pp. 182-197. Also 
in Jaffe, op. cit., Vol. VI, pp. 1-34). 

Vita Sancti Willibrordi, Jaffe, op. cit., Vol. VI. pp. 35-79. 

Ed. A. Boretius et V. Krause. Berolini, 1883-1897. 
EINHART, Vita Caroli Magni imperatoris, M. G. H. SS. II, pp. 443- 

463. Annales, in M. G. H. SS., Vol. I, pp. 124-218. 
MONUMENTA CAROLINI (Bibliotheca Rerum Germanicarum, ed. Jaffe, 
Vol. IV). 

BALL, W. R. R., A Short Account of the History of Mathematics, 3d 

ed., London, 1901. 

BROCKMAN, F. ]., System der Chronologic. Stuttgart, 1883. 
BURSIAN, C, Geschichte der Classischen Philologie in Deutschland. Vol. 

I, Miinchen, 1883. 

CAJORI, F., A History of Elementary Mathematics. New York, 1896. 
CANTOR, M., Mathematische Beitrdge sum Kulturleben der Vdlker. 

Halle, 1863. 
CANTOR, M., Die Rdmischen Agrimensoren ^ und ihre Stellung in der 

Geschichte der Feldmesserkunst. Leipzig, 1875. 
CANTOR, M., Vorlesungen iiber Geschichte der Mathematik, Vol. I, II 

Auflage. Leipzig, 1894-1900. 
COMPARETTI, D., Virgil in the Middle Ages. Translated by E. F. M. 

Benecke, London, 1895. 
DENK, V. M., OTTO, Geschichte des Gallo-Frankischen Unterrichts-und 

Bildungswesens von den Altesten Zeiten bis auf Karl den Grossen. 

Mainz, 1892. 

DRANE, A. T., Christian Schools and Scholars. Second edition. Lon- 
don, 1881. 

DUMMLER, E., Alcuinus in Neues Archiv der Gesellschaft fur altere 
Deutsche Geschichtskunde, Vol. IV, 1879, pp. 118-139 



DUEMMLER, E., Alchuinstudien (Sitzungsberichte der k. Preussischen 

Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1891, pp. 495-523). 
DUEMMLER, E., Zur Lebensgeschichte Alchuins, in Neues Archiv, Vol. 

18, pp. 51-70. 
EBERT, A., Allgemeine ^Geschichte der Literatur des Mittelalters im 

Abendlande. Leipzig, 1874-1887. 
FRIEDLEIN, G., Das Rechnen mit Columnen vor dem 10 Jahrhundert (in 

Zeitschrift fur Mathematik und Physik, Vol. IX). 
FRIEDLEIN, G., Die Zahlzeichen und das Elementare Rechnen der Griech- 

en und Rdmer und des Christlichen Abendlandes vom ^ ten bis 13 

ten Jahrhundert. Erlangen, 1869. 

GASKOIN, C. J. C, Alcuin, his Life and his Work. London, 1904, 
HADDAN, A. W., Remains. Edited by A. P. Forbes. London, 1876. 
HADDAN, A. W., and STUBBS, W., Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents 

Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. III. Oxford, 1869-1873. 
HANKEL, H., Zur Geschichte der Mathematik im Alterthum und Mittel- 

alter. Leipzig, 1874. 

HATCH, E., The Growth of Church Institutions. London, 1895. 
HAUCK, A., Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands. Zweiter Theil. Die 

Karolingerzeit. Zweite Auflage. Leipzig, 1900. 
HAUREAU, B., De la philosophie scolastique, 2 Vols. Paris, 1850. 
HARNACK, A., Histoy of Dogma, Vol. V. Translated by Neil Buchanan. 

Boston, 1899. 

HEFELE, C. J., Conciliengeschichte. Zweite Auflage. Freiburg, 1873. 
Histoire Literaire de la France, Vols. IV, V, VI. 
KLEINCLAUSZ, L 'empire Carohngien ses origines et ses transformations. 

(Hachette, Paris, 1902.) 
LORENTZ, F., Alcuin' s Leben. Halle, 1829. 
MANITIUS, M., Beitr'dge zur Geschichte Romischer Dichter im Mittel- 

alter (Philologus Zeitschrift fur das Qassische Alterthum, Bde. 

47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 56). 

MASIUS, H., Die Erziehung im Mittelalter (ap. K. A. Schmid, Ge- 
schichte der Erziehung, II, I. Stuttgart, 1892, pp. 94-333). 
MOMBERT, A History of Charles the Great. London, 1888. 
MONNIER, F., Alcuin et son influence litteraire, religieuse, et politique 

chez les Francs. Paris, 1853. 

MONNIER, F., Alcuin et Charlemagne. Paris, 1864. 
MORLEY, H., English Writers, Vol. II. London, 1888. 
MULLANY, P. F. (Brother Azarias), Educational Essays. Chicago, 1896. 
MULLINGER, J. B., Schools of Charles the Great and the Restoration of 

Education in the Ninth Century. London, 1877. 
NAUMAN, EMIL, The History of Music, 2 vols. 
NORDEN, E., Die Antike Kunstprosa vom 6ten Jahrhundert vor Christus 

bis in die Zeit der Renaissance, 2 vols. Leipzig, 1898. 
PARKER, H., The Seven Liberal Arts. English Historical Review. 

Vol. V, July, 1890. 

PRANTL, C., Geschichte der Logik im Abendlande. Bd. II. Zweite Auf- 
lage. Leipzig, 1885. 
RASHDALL, H., The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages, 3 vols. 

Oxford, 1895. . 

ROGER, M., L'Enseignement des lettres classiques d'Ausone a Alcuin, 

Introduction a I'histoire des ecoles carolingiennes, Paris, 1905. 
SCHMIDT, K. A., Geschichte der Erzeihung vom Anfang an bis auf 
unsere Zeit, bearbeitet in Gemeinschaft mit einer Anzahl von Ge- 


lehrten und Schulm'dnnern, 5 vols. Stuttgart, 1884-1902. 

SICKEL, TH., Alcuinstudien I (Sitzungsberichte d. philosoph. Histor. 
Classe d. kais. Akademie der Wissenschaften), Vol. LXXIX 
(i875), PP. 46i-55o. 

SPECHT, F. A., Geschichte des Unterrichtswesens in Deutschland . . . 
bis zur Mitte des dreizehnten Jahrhunderts. Stutttgart, 1883. 

WATTENBACH, W., Das Schriftwesen im Mittelalter. 3 Auflage. Leip- 
zig, 1806. 

WERNER, K., Alcuin und sein Jahrhundert. Paderborn, 1876. 

WERNER, K., Beda der Ehrwurdige und seine Zeit. Wien, 1881. 

WEST, A. R, Alcuin and the Rise of the Christian Schools (Great 
Educators). London, 1893. 


The author of this dissertation, Rolph Barlow Page, 
was born at Concord, Ontario, Canada, on December i ith., 
1875. He graduated from the University of Toronto in 
1897, with the degree of A. B., obtaining honors in 
Modern Languages and History. In 1901, he obtained 
his degree of A. M. from the same University. During 
the years 1902-04, he was Scholar and Fellow in Euro- 
pean History at Columbia University, where he studied 
History and allied subjects under the Faculty of Political 
Science. From 1904 to 1909, he has been instructor in 
History and Civics at the High Schoolof Commerce, New 
York City. In addition to the above dissertation, the au- 
thor has written an essay, entitled Life and Times of 
Chaucer. This was published in the Report of the Ontario 
Educational Association for 1901. 




Paige, Rolph Barlow 

The letters of Alcuin